MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reassured the public yesterday that the Philippine government under President Duterte is actively and continuously defending the country’s territory and national sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
At an online pre-State of the Nation Address forum yesterday, he said the current administration has taken various steps to address the “recurrent incursions and harassments by military and civilian Chinese vessels” in the area.
Apart from taking diplomatic action against China for activities against the country’s national sovereignty, he said there have been enhanced surveillance, enforcement, security and development capabilities in the West Philippine Sea.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) improved its identification, detection and interdiction efforts through our newly installed air defense surveillance radars, the conduct of wider air and maritime patrols and setting up additional detachments in strategic locations,” Lorenzana reported.
“Because of this we are able to monitor and watch over our vast maritime territory,” he said in Filipino, speaking for the department and as chair of the security, justice and peace cluster of the Duterte Cabinet.
“The Philippines continues to pursue an independent and principled foreign policy that serves our national interest, fosters respectful friendships and facilitates beneficial and meaningful cooperation and partnership with the global community,” Lorenzana declared.
“Defending national sovereignty and protecting territorial integrity is a paramount priority of this administration. President Duterte’s bilateral and multilateral engagements with other countries and cooperative mechanisms amongst claimant countries have significantly lowered the tension and greatly helped in managing the issues in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Lorenzana said the government has actively pushed for the effective implementation of the 2002 declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea and is also pushing for “an effective and substantive code of conduct in the South China Sea by all claimant states.”
To improve the living conditions of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea, he said the government is upgrading existing facilities in the nine islands that comprise the municipality of Kalayaan, particularly the island of Pag-asa.
“For the first time since the 1970s, Pag-asa Island has received major infrastructure upgrades, namely: a ship beaching ramp and a sheltered port for our fishermen. It is now easier to proceed with other development projects such as concreting the runway and its apron and construction of other structures for the residents and our troops,” said Lorenzana, who attended the inauguration of the beaching ramp along with top military officials last month.
Despite the shelving of the arbitral award, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said yesterday the Philippines stood by its claims with openness and “firmness” on the South China Sea ruling.
The award’s mothballing has resulted in more unlawful acts of intimidation and bullying in the South China Sea.
“We’ve been forthright in our claims. We have stood by our claims and we have done it with openness and in the spirit of friendship, but also with every indication of firmness,” Locsin said at the pre-SONA press briefing.
He emphasized that the Philippines won the case against China even as Beijing refused to honor the ruling. — Pia Lee-Brago
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