The government on Wednesday vowed to protect the country’s territorial sovereignty from foreign intrusion.
And as marine tensions continue to rise, the Department of National Defense (DND) has taken precautionary measures to protect Filipino fishermen against possible attacks by the Chinese Coast Guard amid growing friction in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).a
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda gave assurances that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the fisheries bureau will protect the country’s maritime resources.
“I think that is where we have [taken]measures, both by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and also by our coast watch, to strengthen and to [secure]our maritime resources,” Lacierda told reporters.
He was responding to concerns of some environmental groups that the country’s marine resources in the disputed territories could be depleted before the international tribunal makes a decision on the issue.
The international Arbitral Tribunal has asked China to comment by December 15 this year on the case filed by the Philippines.
Lacierda said the time frame set by the tribunal was part of its rules in settling the dispute, and Manila will leave it to China whether to respond to a memorial filed by the Philippines.
The Philippines filed a case before the international tribunal to clarify the rights and entitlements of each country under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), he added.
“We are all signatories to a treaty or a pact and all parties should abide by it,” Lacierda said.
“We continue to urge China to reconsider its decision not to participate in the arbitration proceedings,” he added.
The South China Sea, a major sea lane for trade and commerce, is believed to be rich in gas and mineral resources.
Aside from China and the Philippines, other claimants to portions of the sea are Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also on Wednesday said they will stop the Chinese from treating local fishermen the way they treated a Vietnamese fishing vessel that dared to venture into disputed waters.
To avoid a similar incident, Gazmin added, the PCG escorts local fishermen up to a point where they would not be harassed but prevents them from venturing further out into areas where there are Chinese vessels to avoid dangerous confrontation.
Chinese vessels remain around Ayungin Shoal in Palawan and in Panatag Shoal in Zambales, which are both Philippine territories.
In April, a Philippine civilian ship carrying members of the media outmaneuvered two Chinese Coast Guard ships and successfully delivered provisions and replacements of the nine-man Philippine Marine Team manning the rusty Sierra Madre landing ship that was intentionally grounded on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to mark the Philippine territorial claim.
China said it was a provocative move on the part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and warned of retaliation.
But Gazmin said “we are not afraid because it is our responsibility to re-supply our troops’ needs and to implement a regular rotation of personnel.”
He added that all activities or incidents in the disputed sea are reported to President Benigno Aquino 3rd and to the Foreign Affairs department, which, in accordance with protocol, files protests against all Chinese incursions into Philippine territory.
Earlier, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said they will always uphold the government’s stand to settle the territorial dispute with China by peaceful means through arbitration.
But Bautista said “we will stand our ground, we will assert our sovereignty, our rights” against Chinese aggression.
“The fact that we pursued our case means that we’ll be prepared to suffer any consequences,” he added.