President Rodrigo Duterte is standing by the strong statement made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana demanding the immediate departure of the remaining 44 Chinese vessels from the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said Monday.
Lorenzana on Saturday told the remaining 44 Chinese vessels to leave, saying they had no more reason to take shelter there since the weather has cleared.
In response, the Chinese Embassy in Manila called Lorenzana’s remark “unprofessional”, maintaining its historical claim over the feature that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Of course, the President stands by the statements of our Secretary of Defense,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a television interview.
Roque, however, pointed out that the presence of Chinese ships in the area would not lead to war.
“I hasten to add that the President has been clear that this is not an issue that will lead to war between friendly nations. We are hoping that our friendly relations will soon resolve this latest impasse,” he added.
In a Palace press briefing aired over PTV-4, Roque cited Duterte’s speech during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020 where the latter affirmed the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling in favor of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China’s expansive maritime claims in the disputed sea.
“The President’s position has not changed. He mentioned this during his speech at the UN General Assembly. We will not sacrifice or give away our national territory and EEZ,” he said in Filipino.
Roque said Duterte also believes that friendly relations between the Philippines and China will result in the peaceful resolution of this impasse.
“The President’s position is that we will fight for our rights, but this is no reason for us to use force. Our President is confident that our strong ties would resolve this impasse,” he added in Filipino.
He also reiterated support for Lorenza’s demand for Chinese vessels to leave the Julian Felipe Reef.“I think Secretary Lorenzana was correct in pointing out that we consider that area as part also of Philippine territory and exclusive economic zone,” he said. SOVEREIGNPH