MANILA, August 10- The Philippines is exercising self-restraint in the conduct of naval activities so as to not complicate territorial disputes, the Philippine Navy said on Monday, contrary to rising issues that President Rodrigo Duterte has set the flag down in asserting sovereignty rights.
In virtual news forum made by Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines’ (FOCAP), Philippine Navy’s Flag Officer in Command Vice-Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said that the country continues to assert its rights against China amid the prevailing virus.
“We continue to patrol the exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea area, only in the area, which concerns us. So that patrol will not complicate the dispute or escalate tensions in that area,” Bacordo said.
“What the President was saying is that auctions that may lead to a shooting war with China should be avoided,” he added.
Amid rising tensions and issues, Bacordo said that auctions leading to an armed conflict should be avoided.
“Actually the President and the Secretary of the National Defense, there were specific exercises in the South China Sea,” he explained.
“If we recall in 2002 declaration of the conduct of parties in the South China Sea of which we are signatory, 10 ASEAN countries plus China signed this 2002 declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea. If you will look at provision number 5… the parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect the peace and stability in that region,” Bacordo emphasized.
The Philippines’ Navy’s Flag Officer also estimated the number of Chinese vessels roaming in the country’s economic zone.
“I don’t have the exact figures; I just have a general formula. Like for example in Scarborough shoal, at any time there are normally three China coastguard vessels and then three fishing boats,” he said.
“That’s normally the trend. Whenever they leave, new vessels take over,” Bacordo described.
He also explained the Philippine Navy would submit a report and a diplomatic protest to the Department of National Defense, as Chinese vessels roaming has no clearance to conduct a survey in West Philippine sea areas.
“It has come to my attention the presence of two Chinese surveillance vessels in Recto Bank—right now I think there’s only one. We have reported this already and we have checked if they have any clearance to conduct a survey in that area. We found out there is none,” Bacordo said.
“They have been there for about a week already and the speed is something less than three knots and you’re only doing that if you’re conducting actual surveys,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has said he only knew that there were permissions for an American and French vessel but does not know of any permission for a Chinese survey vessel in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Last week, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay also said the Philippines’ “temporary suspension” on participation in joint military exercises in the South China Sea “doesn’t mean we are backing down on our claim.”
“We are patrolling aggressively and vigorously our territorial waters and really maintaining a presence in the area, and this sends a signal not only to China but other claimant countries that we are still asserting and protecting our sovereignty in that part of the country,” Gapay said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
Chief Presidential Legal Salvador Panelo hit critics for saying that President Rodrigo Duterte is not doing enough to assert court tribunal ruling on the South China Sea.
It’s not true what you’re saying that we’re taking slow steps when China is involved. You can see (Foreign Affairs) Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, if they do something, take action in the South China Sea, he would immediately file a protest,” Panelo said.
“They keep insisting us to assert sovereignty. What kind of assertion do you want? If you file a protest against what they did against our claim, you’re already asserting,” he said.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague, Netherlands favored the Philippines rights and did not acknowledge China’s nine-dash line, a geographical marker asserting its extensive claims in the strategic waters.
Beijing rejected it as null and void.
“China also did not adhere to that 2016 arbitration tribunal ruling. China assigned this 2002 doc but we have observed so many violations of China. Well, that’s China. We are guided by the rule of law. We want to maintain the moral high ground,” Bacordo said.
“Our option is a diplomatic protest. Auctions that may lead to an armed confrontation should be avoided,” he added. (By Vic Galinato)