Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Only a modernized military can stop China bullying: Philippine defense chief

MANILA, Philippines - Only a modernized military can stop China from bullying the Philippines over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and other disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Tuesday.

Gazmin said the government through the Department of Foreign Affairs (AFP) has been exhausting all means for a peaceful resolution and enforcement of maritime laws but China has remained uncooperative.

“Well, the third option is a credible deterrence: upgrade the capability of our Armed Forces. But again, this is not directed towards to China or any of the countries in the region; this is for our protection to make sure that our laws are enforced and we are able to protect our territorial waters,” Gazmin said.

The commander of the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM), Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, visited Monday the officers and crew of the Philippine’s biggest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, currently on dock and waiting for mission order from higher-ups at the Poro Point in La Union.

“It was just a normal visit to our troops in that area especially our Navy men assigned at the BRP del Pilar. I just relayed to them orders from higher-ups and I’m not at liberty to divulge it to the media because it’s all operational,” Alcantara said.

Gazmin lamented that China seems to prefer bullying its neighbors such as the Philippines rather than resolve the issue lawfully and legally under given laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Panatag Shoal is about 165 nautical miles of Zambales province and situated well within the 200-nautical-mile (UNCLOS provision) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

“We cannot resolve this on the basis of the UNCLOS if one party (China) did not want to cooperate and face the international court of justice. As far as we are concerned, we are always ready and pushing for this but they (China) don’t like it.  Their (China) only basis of claiming the area is ‘history’,” Gazmin said.

The volatile situation at the Panatag Shoal is far from over after the two maritime surveillance vessels (84 and 71) of China returned to the area last Sunday and was joined by another fishing vessel Monday.

Two ships of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and MY Sarangani, a private ship manned by a French team conducting archeological research, were also in the area.
A Chinese aircraft buzzed the Philippine vessels.

“An aircraft buzzed over our vessels. We are certain that this was a Chinese aircraft. The incident was yesterday afternoon (Monday). We will have to get into specifics,” Gazmin said.

Last Friday, the two Chinese maritime surveillance ships helped eight fishing vessels leave the area with their illegal harvest of giant clams, corals and different endangered marine species after the BRP del Pilar pulled out from the area.

The Philippine warship had cornered the 8 Chinese fishing vessels in Tuesday last week but it was blocked by the two maritime surveillance vessels from arresting the Chinese poachers, triggering the four-day standoff.

Standing orders: assert sovereignty at all times

Meanwhile, Gazmin said President Benigno Aquino III has instructed the DFA and the DND to assert the Philippine rights over the Panatag Shoal.

“We’ve to fight for it and we will not leave the area. Of course, we cannot afford to go to war at this time and therefore we’ve to continue our talks with Chinese authorities,” he said.

He also rejected unsolicited advice to seek assistance from the United States.

“This is a thing that we don’t have to ask for because the area is ours. But I am sure that if the standoff will affect their (US) own interest they will help us. But again we should stand on our own and right now we are in the process of trying to diplomatically settle the issue,” Gazmin said.

The longer the standoff at Panatag Shoal, the greater the impact will be on the economic activity in the area, particularly for local fishermen, Gazmin said.
“The most affected here are our fishermen because of this standoff,” he said.

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