MANILA – The Philippines will continue patrolling its territorial waters in the Spratlys, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said Wednesday.
“We’re gonna continue our patrol because it’s ours. That’s all there is to it and then they will continue to call it an illegal provocation including my protest about their illegal incursions but that’s their right. It’s a free world. We can’t stop another country from talking,” Locsin said in an interview over ANC.
Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) protested the illegal confiscation of the fish aggregating devices of Filipino nationals by Chinese Coast Guards in Scarborough Shoal as well as China’s “continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges on Philippine aircraft” conducting activities in the area.
Following this note verbale, the Chinese Foreign Ministry then branded as “illegal provocations” Manila’s maritime patrols in the Kalayaan Island Group.
“They can call it illegal provocations, you can’t change their mind. They already lost the arbitral award, they wouldn’t accept it,” Locsin said.
Asked if the government will lodge another diplomatic protest against China over its remark, Locsin said anyone is free “to say what they want” on any issue.
“That is a very fine line that I’m going to have to consider because as I’ve said to all of my people, when you lack the military power to do something about incursions to your territory, all you have is precision in the law, precision about the facts. Let’s get it always correct then file our protest,” he said.
If something happens beyond an incursion, for example, an attack on a Philippine naval vessel, Locsin said this is when he would call Washington D.C.
‘US presence beneficial’
In the same interview, Locsin admitted that it is in the Philippine interest that the US maintains its presence in the region.
“It benefits the Philippine interest that we have US presence in the region, I’ve said that very clearly… Again, we have a balance of power situation. Yes, we need US presence in Asia,” he said.
In the crafting of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Locsin added that among the provisions being pushed is the “exclusion of foreign powers”, a proposal the Philippine side has opposed.
“I said no, that completely undermines the very independence of the countries who are now going to agree to a code of conduct so we don’t unnecessarily hurt each other… As a diplomat, I don’t foreclose any means to protect the sovereignty and freedom of my country,” he said.
China, Taiwan and some ASEAN member-states including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam, have competing claims in the South China Sea.
For more than a decade, China and the bloc committed to working towards the early adoption of the COC but it was only during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in the Philippines in November 2017 that development on the document began to move forward.
Locsin said the two parties approved the “first text” of the COC, however, a timeline for a final document is yet to be determined as the two-year deadline earlier set “wasn’t even accepted by the other countries”.
The top diplomat noted that Manila alone cannot dictate the content of the COC as other Southeast Asian nations have their “own objections and their own accommodations with China.”
Despite this, Locsin said Manila is firm in rejecting any provision in the COC that would set aside the Arbitral Award, which ruled Beijing’s nine-dash line as illegal.
“There can never be an accommodation that sets aside the Arbitral Award, obviously they will not refer to it directly, but even the implication–I have a very good ear for implications — that I will oppose,” he said. (PNA)