THE “growing militarization” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) has continued to “undermine” the cooperation of frontline nations on other issues surrounding the region, President Rodrigo Duterte’s security adviser has warned.
At the same time, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. echoed Duterte that the issues within the disputed waters remained “dangerous” and was a “flashpoint.”
“The South China Sea or West Philippine Sea issue remains to be dangerous [and a]flashpoint in the region due to the overlapping territorial claims and maritime domain concerns among various claimants,” Esperon said during a security forum in Makati City last Tuesday.
He also said that the Philippine government was “very much sensitive” to a host of security subplots concerning the “larger great power narrative” in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The growing militarization of the South China Sea and the delay to forge a legally binding Code of Conduct in the disputed area continue to undermine the blossoming cooperation of frontline states in other issue-areas,” Esperon said.
The former military chief’s statement comes despite Duterte’s assurances that the West Philippine Sea was “ours” and that the ongoing construction of defensive structures by Beijing was intended for the US.
Ironically, it was Duterte himself who said in April 2017 that the West Philippine Sea was a “flashpoint” without a drafted code of conduct of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
In August 2017, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano led discussions in the drafting of the COC with China and other Asean member states during the 22nd meeting of the Asean-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties. DEMPSEY REYES