MANILA, Philippines—Citing an order by President Rodrigo Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday (Aug. 3) said that the Philippines would not join the navies of other countries, like the United States, in maritime drills in the South China Sea for fear of raising tension in the area.
“President Rodrigo Duterte has a standing order to us, to me, that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except our national waters, the 12 mile distance from our shores,” the defense chief said at an online press briefing.
We cannot exercise with them in the South China Sea,” said Lorenzana.
“If one country’s action is considered as belligerent, another tension will normally rise, so I hope that all the parties in this exercise will have, will work on their actions there, to exercise prudence and carefulness so that there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension,” he said.
The United States, a long-time ally of the Philippines, has sent its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the South China Sea in recent weeks, conducting naval exercises and freedom of navigation operations.
Duterte recently drew flak for saying that he was “inutile” and “cannot do anything” to counter China’s aggression in the South China Sea, virtually raising the white flag in surrender of Philippine sovereignty in Scarborough Shoal which the President said was already “occupied” by China.
Duterte, instead, said the Philippines should just pursue “diplomatic endeavors.” He did not elaborate on that.
China has laid claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters in the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Duterte said the Philippines could not afford to go to war with China just to protect its sovereignty. But former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disputed Duterte’s statement, saying the Philippines’ neighbors, which are also under constant threat by China, are upholding their dignity as sovereign nations without going to war.
Duterte took a pivot to China when he became President in 2016 supposedly in exchange for loans and economic aid. His officials described it as a shift to an independent foreign policy, but not kowtowing to China.
Duterte has also swept aside an international tribunal ruling that declared China’s mythical nine-dash line claim to the whole of South China Sea as invalid and its incursions into the maritime territories of the Philippines and other countries as illegal.
Lorenzana defended Duterte’s remarks, saying that the President was just adopting a “realistic and pragmatic approach.”
There are so many countries who are getting involved here in South China Sea, but they have different interests than the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.
“Their main concern is freedom of navigation,” Lorenzana said of other countries which had the dignity to stand up to China.
He said, though, that the Philippines supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because “it also coincides with our wish.”
“But if we study further, we have other issues in the South China Sea like how are we going to exercise our sovereign rights to exploit the resources in the South China Sea,” Lorenzana said.
“It looks like these other countries won’t intervene” on the matter of Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, according to Lorenzana. “It’s only between us and China,” he said.