Vigilance is key to South China Sea row as Defense Secretary Lorenzana orders increased patrols and surveillance
MANILA – Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said it is important for the country to monitor and see whatever movement there is in the vicinity of Julian Felipe reef where over two hundred Chinese fishing vessels have gathered from March 7 this year allegedly to seek shelter due to inclement weather.
Speaking over government-run People’s Television Network – 4 yesterday, Ambassador Sta. Romana said after the Department of Foreign Affairs sent a note verbale protesting the presence of Chinese ships followed by a statement uploaded in the DFA website and President Duterte’s meeting with Ambassador Huang Xilian very recently, they are talking with Chinese authorities in Beijing.
“Our goal is to monitor and see what the movement will be on the ground because they have assured us that the encroachment is not a permanent situation as the Chinese authorities downplayed reports the ships has Chinese militia personnel aboard.
He added the lesson learned is to remain vigilant as “vigilance is the price of sovereignty.”
The Filipino diplomat and long-time Beijing resident added while the Philippines need to heighten is vigilance, there is no need to panic. He recalled the 2019 incident where Chinese fishing boats swarmed Pag-asa where protests took place as well as diplomatic exchanges.
“In fact, President Rodrigo Duterte went to China and talked with President Xi Jinping and things cleared up and through diplomacy, the concerns were addressed, and the number of Chinese vessels significantly decreased,” said the media practitioner-turned-diplomat. He said the Chinese proceeded with their fishing activities.
“I expect that this matter can be resolved with an abundance of diplomacy and given the friendly relations between the Philippines and China and their assurance that thisis not a permanent situation that is what we expect,” he added.
Ambassador Sta. Romana said what they don’t want to happen is for the fishing vessels to remain permanently or occupy and reclaim part of the Julian Felipe Reef.
Sounding optimistic, Ambassador underscored the need for diplomacy to clear things up with his Chinese counterparts.
“I expect that this matter can be resolved with an abundance of diplomacy given the friendly relations between the Philippines and China and their assurance that this is not a permanent situation, that is what we expect,” he added.
Ambassador Sta. Romana said they take the Chinese diplomats’ word and should there be discrepancy then the Philippines can hold them accountable.
“There’s an old saying in diplomacy and politics: trust but verify,” he further said. He explained the Philippines has expressed its objection in terms of the language of the law.
He said it does not say that that at first instance, the Filipinos would be fired upon although the possibility of a confrontation exists thereby making vigilance of prime importance.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said they are addressing the prevailing situation at Julian Felipe Reef. In a statement released late Saturday night, he said they stand by their position calling for the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef which was earlier relayed to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.
“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines. There will be an increased presence of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard ships to conduct sovereignty patrols and protect our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
He added a Philippine Navy ship and a Philippine Coast Guard vessel are in the area monitoring the actual situation as the Philippine Air Force deploys an AS211 jet daily with the same mission.
Secretary Lorenzana said the country’s air and sea assets are ready to protect the sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and the Kalayaan Island Group.
He added the Defense Department is coordinating with other agencies such as the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to unify the efforts in the West Philippine Sea and the Municipality of Pag-asa.
“By securing the West Philippine Sea and its islands in the Kalayaan area, the Philippines reinforces its commitment to keeping the freedom of navigation and maintaining regional peace and stability,” the DND statement concluded. (Melo M. Acuña)
Philippine Ambassador to China H. E. Jose Santiago "Chito" Sta. Romana. (File Photo/Melo Acuna)