Malacañang on Monday expressed ‘very serious concerns’ over reports that Chinese bombers, including a long-range H-6K bomber, landed on one of three artificial islands that China developed in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“We take note of the reports that appeared and we express serious concerns anew on its impact on constructive efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
Roque, however, said President Rodrigo Duterte “does not see any immediate threat” despite recent missile deployment and landing of bombers in the Chinese reclaimed islands.
“As I said, we do not consider China to be a threat to our security right now because of our new found friendship with China,” Roque said.
Roque maintained that the issue should be addressed through diplomatic means, which includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declaration adopted in the recent Singapore Summit.
“This (ASEAN declaration) reiterates the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could further complicate the situation in the West Philippine Sea,” Roque said.
He said member countries of ASEAN should call for China to heed the declaration of non-militarization of the WPS or South China Sea.
“That’s the collective of ASEAN and I think in dealing with China, it’s best that we speak as one as ASEAN. So that’s we are reiterating the ASEAN statement, calling for non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the WPS,” Roque said.
Roque clarified that there is no need for each ASEAN member to issue an independent statement.
On the part of the Philippines, Roque said the Chinese militarization should be discussed in the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) between China and the Philippines.
“The Philippines reaffirms the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, avoid actions that would escalate tensions and peaceful resolutions of disputes in accordance with international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and like the other issues that have been reported by a major daily, we will bring this issue again in the bilateral mechanism that we have agreed upon with China,” Roque said.
“We will again exert diplomatic initiatives. Obviously we are in no position to physically stop them, but we will take all initiatives open to us,” he added.
Roque had earlier said the Philippines had addressed China’s recent missile deployment in the WPS through BCM.
He said the Philippines is not ignoring China’s recent activities especially that the three artificial islands that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“We are addressing it diplomatically. The position of the DFA, there is no need to announce in public everything they do because obviously diplomatic communication and relations and negotiations is subject to exception to freedom of information and likewise, of course, we have always expressed serious concerns, it’s not as if we take it sitting down,” Roque said.
When asked if the Philippines can invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with US to address the WPS issue, Roque said the treaty is applicable only if there is an actual armed attack.
“In the absence of an actual attack, the Mutual Defense Treaty is inapplicable because there should be an actual armed attack on the Philippine territory or any of the islands,” he explained. PNA