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Top Army official says ‘political will’ needed to stop Chinese incursion

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 04:39 AM August 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration’s “political will” and “resolve,” not just more military hardware, are needed to thwart China’s aggression in the country’s territorial waters in the disputed South China Sea, a senior Armed Forces of the Philippines official said on Monday.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, the chief of the AFP Southern Luzon Command, blamed the previous Aquino administration for its supposed inaction to stop China’s land reclamation in the West Philippine Sea, waters located within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, that began as early as 2013.

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Interestingly, then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his Cabinet consistently protested China’s intrusion into Philippines waters, ultimately challenging China’s claim to nearly the entire South China Sea in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The Philippines won the challenge in July 2016, but China refused to accept the court’s decision.

Clear message

Quizzed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros at his confirmation hearing on the congressional Commission on Appointments, Parlade said the government should send China a clear message about its conviction to protect the country’s territory.

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“What we need is really political will because if from the start we did something to stop China’s reclamation in 2013, perhaps we could have nipped from the bud this attempt by the Chinese to [build artificial islands],” Parlade said when asked about the military’s capability to safeguard the West Philippine Sea.

“As the military is the extension of politics, we would abide with whatever [President Rodrigo Duterte], the Commander in Chief, will tell us. Currently, the policy is, I don’t want to say peaceful coexistence, to increase the stability [in the region],” he said.

Hontiveros expressed concern that China’s intrusion in the Western Philippine Sea had been practically left unchecked as hundreds of Chinese fishing boats were seen near Pag-asa Island this year.

“Undeniably, these activities are prejudicial to the rights of Filipino fishermen to have access to the country’s exclusive economic zone,” Hontiveros said.

Parlade said the government should “send the message that this government is serious about protecting its rights” not just to China, but to other countries with conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

“It doesn’t matter if we only have a few floating vessels or fighter jets,” he said.

“It is not about capabilities, but our resolve, our political will that our political interests are protected. That is what is important that the international community should understand,” he stressed.

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Peaceful coexistence

Hontiveros supported Parlade’s position, but insisted that Duterte’s strategy in dealing with China only “undermined and betrayed” the country’s national interests.

“Nobody is calling for war. We want peaceful coexistence with all the claimant countries in South China Sea, including China. But it seems, like what has been happening in the past few years, is defeat snatching from the jaws of victory,” she said.

She said the political will was “most strikingly displayed” in Aquino’s decision to pursue the arbitral case against China.

Parlade also lamented that until now, the government had yet to come up with a unified framework to “integrate the efforts” of the military and other government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Philippine Coast Guard to safeguard Balabac Strait and Mindoro Strait.

“What we are saying is that the security and protection of these areas should not be left to the Armed Forces. It should include the [other state agencies],” he said.

“It is important really that we discuss this issue, with the geopolitical issue on top of our heads. This is not just a domestic problem. We are all well-entrenched in this region, and I think … an interstate action [is needed] as far as protecting this region is concerned,” Parlade added.

In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque gave assurance on Monday that President Duterte would “not give an inch” of the country’s territory, after China’s foreign ministry accused the Philippines of violating Chinese sovereignty by sending military aircraft over the heavily disputed Spratly archipelago in the middle of the South China Sea.

Speaking at his regular press briefing, Roque said sending military aircraft over the West Philippine Sea, which the Chinese foreign ministry described as “illegal provocation,” was part of the Philippines’ exercise of sovereignty over its territory.

Speaking at his regular press briefing, Roque said sending military aircraft over the West Philippine Sea, which the Chinese foreign ministry described as “illegal provocation,” was part of the Philippines’ exercise of sovereignty over its territory.

“That’s China’s opinion. But we continue on flying supply missions to Kalayaan Island and we continue to have overflights in Bajo Masinloc. We also maintain that it’s part of our sovereignty or our sovereign rights,” Roque said.

Bajo Masinloc is another name of Panatag Shoal, a rich fishing ground off the coast of Zambales that China seized from the Philippines in 2012, triggering Manila’s challenge to Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

Earlier, the DFA filed a diplomatic protest against the Chinese Coast Guard’s harassment of Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal and seizure of their fish traps in May.

It also objected to China’s challenging Philippine military aircraft conducting regular air patrol over the West Philippine Sea.

Roque pointed out that Panatag Shoal is not part of the territory of any country in the region, and as such it is open to all fishermen in the area.

He, however, reiterated that the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea is not a hindrance to bilateral relations between China and the Philippines.

With a report from Julie M. Aurelio

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TAGS: maritime dispute, PH-China relations, Rodrigo Duterte, South China sea, West Philippine Sea
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