By Mario Casayuran
A political ally of President Duterte sought Tuesday a strong presence of the US Pacific fleet in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to make China feel the balance of power in that area.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson issued the call after expressing disappointment at the statement of President Duterte that he was treating as a ‘’maritime incident’’ the alleged ramming by a big Chinese vessel of a small Filipino fishing boat and leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves as their boat was sinking at the Reed Bank at the WPS last week.
“No less than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as much very recently – that the US and the Philippines have an obligation under such treaty to respond accordingly if a vessel belonging to either party, military or civilian, is attacked in the West Philippine Sea which according to him is within the area of the Pacific,’’ he stressed.
Lacson conceded that going to war with China is really a suicidal course of action. But the US has the capability, he added.
“He (President Duterte) forgot that we have a Mutual Defense Treaty with the US and that’s a clear option, not because we are hoping that there will be World War III – two superpowers will never want to go to war with each other; but because our only hope is to make China feel the balance of power in the WPS,’’ Lacson said.
Despite China’s aggressive defense over its claimed territories in most parts of the South China Sea, US naval vessels and airplanes continue to patrol the South China Sea where billions and billions of dollars worth of goods pass through. The US maintained it has the right to use the sea lane as part of the right of innocent passage.
Observers asked why the Chinese vessel at the Reed Bank in the first place when the United Nations Arbitration Court rejected China’s historical claim over most parts of the South China Sea.
Lacson is set to take over the chairmanship of the Senate national defense committee in the forthcoming 18th Congress when it opens on July 22.
He has volunteered to surrender his chairmanship of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee to Senator-elect Ronald dela Rosa.
“I am not praying for World War III,’’ Lacson, a former Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, said. Dela Rosa is also a PMA graduate.
To opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, the President’s statement Monday night, treating the Reed Bank hit-and-run incident as an ordinary maritime incident “reveals a lot.”
“Thank you for confirming who you truly are, Mr. President: matapang at mabagsik sa mga mahihirap, palamura at bastos sa kababaihan at democracy advocates, pero maamong tupa sa harap ng bansang Tsina. Kawawa naman ang ating mangingisda. Walang maasahang tulong sa pamahalaan,’’ she said. (You are brave and brutal in treating the poor, you are rude and you spew bad words at women and democracy advocates, but is a lamb in front of China. Poor Filipino fishermen, they cannot depend on the administration.)
Lacson conceded that going to war with China is really a suicidal course of action.
He maintained that the two superpowers would never want to go to war with each other ‘’but our only hope is to make China feel balance of power in the WPS.’’
Malacanang said Monday that it would invoke the MDT with the United States if it is the right thing to do as it tried to resolve the Reed Bank incident.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo issued the statement after US Ambassador to the Philippines Kim Sung said that foreign government-sanctioned attacks initiated by militia or armed civilians in the South China may trigger the MDT of the US and the Philippines.
Kim had said that the US would honor the provisions of the MDT that binds the two countries to support each other in case of an external attack.
Lacson said whether it’s a collision or allision, the fact they were abandoned to die in the high seas is another criminal act.
“This is a test of both patience and respect. Respect on the part of the Chinese government towards an ally which is the Philippines; and patience on the part of our government. How long can we take the bullying of China, hindi lang sa fishermen; the Filipinos themselves di ba?’’ he said. (It is not only the Filipino fishermen who were bullied.)’’
“We’re being bullied. That’s clear enough. Di lang ito ang incident,’’ he pointed out. This is not only the only incident.