PH won’t give up claims in WPS, Palace assures

MANILA — Malacanang on Tuesday assured that the Philippines will not give up any of its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid China’s alleged militarization of the highly-contested area.

“Right now, our position is still the same: whatever happens there, no territory will be given. We will assert our rights and sovereignty on the maritime territory that is part of our exclusive economic zone,” Roque said in a Palace media briefing.

Roque said the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) decision is evidence of the country’s sovereign rights on the island and its maritime claims within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

According to the PCA’s 2016 verdict, China’s nine-dash line map which covers nearly the whole of South China Sea has no legal basis.

Roque has said that the Philippines expresses serious concerns over reports that China has landed combat aircraft, including a long-range H-6K bomber at an airfield of one of its reclaimed island in the WPS.

China has denied the militarization allegations, saying the movement of the bombers was just part of the normal Chinese military training in the South China Sea which Beijing claimed “are Chinese territories”.

Roque said the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), is already addressing the deployment of Chinese military assets in the WPS.

“I cannot understand why you are saying that we are not doing anything. It is not publicly announced by the DFA but we are doing something (on this issue),” Roque said.

He said the country is “quietly working” with its Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) neighbors, particularly those with similar claims like Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei to address the issue.

“We have already a common statement by insisting on ASEAN statement,” Roque said, referring to the ASEAN Declaration calling for China to heed on the non-militarization of the WPS.

Roque said the Chinese military activities in the disputed territory will also be discussed in the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) meeting between the Philippines and China “probably” in June.

“But at the same time, we are moving on with our bilateral relations in which we can agree on something that is agreeable and set aside contentious issues for now,” he said.

Roque said when China built the artificial islands in the WPS, “we all know that it will be used for military bases and not for tourist attraction”.

“And for Chinese perspective, they will use to defend themselves because the US aircraft is there,” he said.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said that what is happening in the WPS is a standoff between China and the Philippines’ longstanding ally, the US.

“We will not join them but of course, we are concerned because we are also using the sea (WPS) for livelihood,” Roque explained. Jelly Musico/PNA –