By Genalyn Kabiling
The government has vowed to continue to protect and defend the country’s territory while pursuing dialogue with China on the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government has conducted naval patrols, deployed more troops in West Philippine Sea islands, continued engagement with China on territorial concerns, among others, and would sustain such initiatives.
Esperon presented the Cabinet’s accomplishment report on keeping security, peace and justice during a public forum ahead of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA).
“We are preparing for peace,” Esperon said during the pre-SONA briefing at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City when asked if the government was readying for war with China over the territorial conflict.
“These are the cluster’s future plans: Continue the programs that protect the national territory, and boundaries, safeguarding territorial integrity, sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.
These initiatives include border management and security, air and maritime domain awareness program, enhancement of maritime security policy and coordination, and mandatory reserve force, according to Esperon.
Apart from naval surface patrols and increased military presence in the Philippines’ islands in WPS, Esperon said the Department of National Defense has started the rehabilitation of structures in Kalayaan group of islands, including the repair of a runway in Pag-asa Island.
On dealing with the territorial conflict with China, Esperon said high-level visits and meetings as well as bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) seek “to improve the ability of both sides to manage developments in the West Philippine Sea so as not to escalate tensions.”
These initiatives also aim to provide wide access for Filipino artisanal fishermen in Scarborough Shoal and protect the environment and marine ecosystem.
Esperon said the government also participated in the ASEAN-China processes in the South China Sea issue for the peaceful management and resolution of disputes in the South China. The country supports the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as well as the crafting of a code of conduct in the disputed region.
Apart from the protection of the Philippine territory, Esperon said the government would also continue to carry out the cluster’s diplomacy program by strengthening country’s engagement with traditional and non-traditional partners, expanding global presence, and pursuing national interest in all fora.
The administration is also committed to strengthening the rule of law by pursuing law enforcement capacity enhancement as well as the campaign against illegal drugs and crimes, he added.