President Rodrigo Duterte is not giving up the country’s claims on some areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and he will resolve maritime incursions at an auspicious time, Malacañang assured the public on Tuesday.
The assurances were issued following reports that Beijing plans to construct an environmental monitoring station on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is being claimed by three countries – the Philippines, China and Taiwan.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte will resolve China’s massive claims over contested waters “at a time most fitting and advantageous” to the Filipino people.
He added that the Department of Foreign Affairs is “in the process of verifying alleged announcements of proposals to build structures in West Philippine Sea, since these statements do not reflect the official position of PROC [People’s Republic of China].”
“PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte] has repeatedly asserted that the Philippines is not giving up its claims and our entitlements over the area,” Abella said in a statement.
“He has said time and again that he will defend and protect the interests of the Filipino people, and will take necessary action at a time most fitting and advantageous to us.”
Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie was quoted by Chinese daily as saying that environmental monitoring stations will be built on six islands and reefs, including Panatag Shoal. These projects are among the government’s priorities this year, he said.
China seized Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff with Philippine Coast Guard vessels and prevented Filipinos from fishing in the area.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague invalidated China’s nine-dash line maritime claim that covers at least 90 percent of the entire South China Sea.
Duterte chose to set aside the ruling as he sought to strengthen ties with Beijing.
Recently, Chinese survey ships were monitored patrolling the resource-rich Benham Rise over which the Philippines has sovereign rights based on a United Nations ruling.
Duterte admitted that he allowed Beijing to send its ships to Benham Rise.
Before leaving for Myanmar on Sunday, the President said he cannot stop China’s actions in Panatag Shoal because the Philippines cannot afford to wage war on China.
“We cannot stop China from doing those things. Even the Americans could not stop them,” he said.
The Philippine military said it is ready to defend the country’s territory and is awaiting the President’s instructions.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office, said the military has not received any
order on what to do with Benham Rise or other disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
“Up to now we have not received any instructions from the Department of National Defense and the Office of the President for us to conduct patrols. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is ready to undertake its mandate to defend our Constitution, to defend our territories and our sovereignty. We are not the policy maker. We are not the decision maker,” Arevalo said.
“But your armed forces is ready to embark on any mission pertaining to our mandate which is to protect our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had earlier said that the President has ordered the military to conduct regular patrols in Benham Rise.
Arevalo said the Philippine Navy has a vessel that has the capability to conduct maritime research in Benham.
However, without a clear official order from the President, the military can only monitor developments at the Panatag Shoal and Benham Rise.
“But with regard to foreign relations and to the manner how we will deal with these so-called activities conducted by other countries, it would have to come from the national and political leadership,” Arevalo said.
WITH A REPORT FROM FERNAN MARASIGAN