The Department of National Defense (DND) expressed support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to settle the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue with China through diplomatic means.
“The WPS issue represents just a portion of the sum total of our relations with China, thus, the DND supports the President’s efforts to manage it through diplomatic means,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in message to the PNA Monday.
“Having said that, however, the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will defend our country’s sovereignty with all the means and resources available to us, if and when the need arises,” he added.
Meanwhile, AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said the military has been consistently conducting regular maritime and aerial patrols in the WPS in line with its constitutional mandate.
“We pursue our mandate of protecting the people and securing our sovereignty – in relation to the country’s foreign policy,” he added.
In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte said Manila stands firm on its commitment to protect its interest in the WPS while improving relations with Beijing.
“Our improved relationship with China does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interest in the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said, adding that this is reflected in Manila’s continued engagement with Beijing through multilateral and bilateral channels.
In 2017, the government launched the first bilateral consultative mechanism in South China Sea (BCM) with China, where all issues concerning the contested area were discussed in a “frank, in-depth, and friendly manner.”
The Philippines, together with several Southeast Asian countries, also engaged China towards the drafting of the framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) during its chairmanship to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2017.
These efforts paved the way for an opportunity to manage the dispute without further escalating tensions in the strategic waters, Duterte said.
“Opening lines of communication and amicably managing differences have led to positive developments that include renewed access of Filipino fishermen in the areas of dispute in the Philippines’ West Philippine Sea.” PNA