Solon: Increased US presence in WPS to deter Chinese incursions

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    DEPUTY Speaker Rufus Rodriguez (PMP-CDP, Cagayan de Oro City) yesterday urged the United States to conduct more frequent freedom of navigation (FON) operations or patrols in the West Philippine Sea, saying this would deter Chinese incursions in the area.

    The lawmaker was reacting to a report from the US Navy that one of its carrier strike groups entered the South China Sea last April 4 amid strong protests from the Philippines on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels at the Juan Felipe Reef, which is inside the Philippine 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

    The House leader noted that the April 4 passage was the second by the US Navy in more than three months.

    “They (US) should crisscross that area more often to challenge China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, including international waters and a large part of the Philippine EEZ,” Rodriguez said.

    Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he will be “firing” another diplomatic protest to China over the continued presence of its vessels at the Julian Felipe reef.

    Locsin said the DFA will keep on protesting until the last Chinese vessel leaves the area.
    “Firing another diplomatic protest. Everyday till the last one’s gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing,” Locsin said in a tweet.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier expressed fears the continued stay of Chinese vessels in the area is a prelude to occupation of the area, which is 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan, well within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

    The Chinese embassy has insisted the reef is part of China and it is normal for the Chinese to fish and to seek shelter during rough sea conditions at the reef, which it said is a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen.

    Rodriguez said conducting more FON operations “is walking the talk on the part of our defense treaty ally, the US.

    “They should support their statements of support for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute with actual actions on the ground,” he added.

    The House leader said this would also show the readiness of the United States to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of conflict as provided under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.

    Rodriguez also called for stronger and more explicit statements on the West Philippine Sea issue on the part of the US.

    “Professions of support for Manila in very general language no longer suffice and are just being ignored by the party to which they are directed. There has to be a more direct statement or a warning that the other party will understand,” he said.

    Rep. Carlos Zarate (PL, Bayan Muna), however, called for a “complete demilitarization of the South China Sea amid the ramping up of military and naval presence by China, US and other western powers in the disputed maritime region.”

    “The recent aggressive and expansionist actions of China is now apparently being taken as a cue by western powers, particularly the US, France, etc., to increase its military and naval presence in the region. This increasing militarization of the South China Sea, including our West Phillipine Sea, is making this region a potential flashpoint for trouble,” he said.

    The militant lawmaker called on the two military powers to “stand down” and underscored the need to pass a code of conduct among all claimant countries.

    Zarate said the Executive department should now take a more assertive stance against China’s expansionist moves, including the House of Representatives which he said should register its collective voice against China’s aggressive actions.

    “Congress should not stand idly by when there are infringement on our territory and sovereignty,” he added, noting the Makabayan Bloc has at least five pending resolutions on the issue that are yet to be heard by the appropriate House committee. – With Ashzel Hachero