President Rodrigo Duterte is not guilty of any inaction when it comes to asserting the country’s control over territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.
“One cannot accuse the President of inaction because after his bilateral [talks] with [Chinese President Xi Jinping], our fishermen returned to Panatag to fish, we can resupply our troops on our islands without interference, an agreement was made that both parties cannot occupy new features and none [of them] has done [anything] so far in compliance with this, and there is talk of joint development of gas and oil resources in the area, tourism and trade has flourished specially export of [agricultural] products,” he stressed.
Lorenzana also clarified that no Philippine-occupied islands were lost during the present administration.
“Retake what? Did we lose any islands? The Chinese never took any of our occupied islands. They took over unoccupied reefs and turned them into islands. Had we been wiser we could have occupied those reefs as well when we occupied the nine islands in the 70s,” the DND chief stressed in response to survey reports claiming that nine out of ten Filipinos are in favor of retaking Philippine islands seized by China in the WPS.
“How do you resolve the issue with a regional power that is ready to defend its ‘interest’ militarily? Madaling magsabi ng (It is easy to say) ‘let us assert our rights and sovereignty’. Question is how? But first, was there sovereignty violated? We have the sovereign right to exploit the resources but the WPS is not our sovereign territory. Panatag Shoal [thanks to the arbitral ruling] is now the fishing ground not exclusively of the Filipinos but of Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese as well,” Lorenzana added.
The DND chief was referring to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling issued on July 12, 2016 which invalidated Beijing’s claim over its “historic rights” to the WPS and pointed out that its ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ map has no legal basis.
“Compare these positive developments from that of the past administration: their action was to go to the PCA -an international arbitral court – a body not under the UN and doesn’t have enforcement mechanism. China did not participate. We won but it is an empty victory: the Chinese won’t leave our EEZ and instead it continues to assert its historical rights over the areas within the Nine-Dash-Line. Additionally, it stopped buying our bananas and pineapples, Chinese tourists dwindled to near zero, and our fishermen were barred from going to Panatag to fish,” he pointed out.
While it will take time to resolve the issue, Lorenzana said that the Philippines should leverage whatever advantage it has to improve our economy and the capabilities of the Armed Forces and help in maintaining regional peace and stability. PNA