‘We will defend what is ours’
The deployment of the BRP Rajah Humabon—the Philippines’ only warship—to patrol the seas near Scarborough Shoal is meant to show the country’s resolve to defend its sovereignty over what it considers its undisputed territory, Malacañang said Saturday.
On Friday, President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines “will not be pushed around [just] because we are a tiny state compared to [China].”
He reiterated the Philippines’ right to explore its seas despite China’s claims over the same.
The only World War II-era destroyer still in active service, the Humabon was sent to patrol the waters off Zambales after China sent Haixun 31, a helicopter-equipped 3,000-ton maritime patrol ship, on a voyage that will see it passing through the West Philippine Sea.
The Humabon’s displacement is only 1,390 tons. Acquired in December 1978 and commissioned by the Philippine Navy in February 1980, it is the Philippines’ only warship.
In Baguio City, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Oban Jr. said on Saturday that “miracles on the table will resolve” the Spratlys row.
“Diplomacy will work,” he said at the Philippine Military Academy where he was the guest during the incorporation of 195 new cadets.
“It’s a way of saying that this is ours,” Secretary Ramon Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, said of Scarborough Shoal, which is also being claimed by China.
Scarborough Shoal lies about 220 kilometers from Zambales, 350 km from Manila, and more than 800 km from Hong Kong.
“We may be a small country, but we will do whatever we can to defend our sovereignty … Whatever capabilities we have, no matter how big or small, we’re going to assert our sovereignty,” Carandang said.
He also said that while the Philippines wanted a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the dispute over the Spratly island chain—which is being claimed wholly or partly by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan—it was asserting its sovereignty over its territories.
Also on Saturday in a news briefing over government radio, presidential deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said Malacañang expected China to continue its support for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the ongoing dispute with respect to territories in the West Philippine Sea.
“Our statements have always been very clear … Our approach is a rules-based settlement of the dispute, and we are seeking a multilateral approach to the dispute resolution,” Valte said.
“But I think our counterparts in China are saying the same thing. [T]here will be no use of force and they also want a diplomatic means to come up with a peaceful resolution of the problem,” she said.
Through its spokesperson, Commodore Miguel Rodriguez, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it found “no cause for worry” over the three-day military drills conducted by the Chinese Navy near the potentially resource-rich Spratlys.
In fact, he said in a text message, the military hoped to someday participate in joint military drills with China, with whom the Philippines had traded diplomatic barbs over alleged intrusions in disputed waters.
On the other hand, Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez cautioned the government against relaxing its claim over parts of the Spratlys despite repeated assurances from other claimant-countries, particularly China, that they would not start a war there.
“We should always keep our guard up, in spite of the conciliatory tone of the latest China statement on the Spratlys,” he said.
Golez said that when China occupied Mischief Reef near Palawan in 1995, Chinese authorities lulled their counterparts in the Philippines that they had only built temporary structures for their fishermen. Four years later, he said, the AFP discovered full-blown concrete military structures and facilities on Mischief.
Only recently, Golez said, China issued warnings, combined with physical harassment, that it owned the seas all the way to Recto (Reed) Bank, followed by a conciliatory message that it would not allow force.
“If we allow them to lull us again, we might wake up one morning witnessing a flotilla of PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army) frigates patrolling Recto Bank which is a stone’s throw from Palawan’s west shoreline,” he said.
Henry Bensurto, secretary general of the Philippine permanent mission to the UN in New York, has pointed out that recent events in Recto bank tended to widen disputed areas in the Spratlys to include even those falling within Philippine jurisdiction.
“The Philippines firmly rejects any efforts in this regard. Such actions are inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Bensurto said at the 21st Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea held on June 13-17 at the United Nations.
At the same meeting, other nations such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore also echoed the need to maintain peace and security in the region.
They also called “for the peaceful resolution of disputes as enshrined in the [Unclos]” in their national statements, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
In a statement on the DFA website, Bensurto called for the adherence to the rule of law in the West Philippine Sea and rejected efforts to broaden disputes.
He said the Philippines was committed to international law, particularly the Unclos. He added: “We expect nothing less from our international partners.” With reports from DJ Yap, Cynthia D. Balana and Julie M. Aurelio
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