By Martin Sadongdong
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. admitted on Friday that he was not satisfied with some of China’s response to the series of diplomatic protests filed by the Philippine government with regards its alleged incursion in the country’s territorial waters.
Esperon, who also chairs the national task force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), said the Chinese maritime militia still exist in the Philippines’ maritime areas, most predominant the Chinese Coast Guard and warships.
From January to September 2019, Esperon said he has recommended to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) the filing of diplomatic protests on 39 action items against China’s supposed incursion.
It includes the reported swarming of Chinese militia in areas in South China Sea where Philippines and China have overlapping claims, and the uncoordinated passage of Chinese warships in Sibutu Strait and other Philippine territorial ceiling, among others.
“There have been actions and responses from China but I leave that to the DFA as details are there. But I am satisfied with some, not with some,” Esperon said.
For one, he said he was not fully satisfied with the way China responded after a diplomatic protest was filed for the supposed swarming of Chinese vessels in the Philippine territory.
On February 8, 2019, some 61 Chinese vessels were spotted near Sandy Cay, one of the three sandbars near Pag-asa Island. The number of Chinese vessels ballooned to 113 on July 24.
“Sometimes, they would decrease their deployments there. I am not even sure if it’s because of the weather condition but truth to tell, even if they are there, then we simply have to develop yet our own capabilities to enforce fisheries laws,” Esperon said.
“When the Chinese vessels are swarming the areas, the most likely to happen is that Chinese fishermen are getting more resources than Filipino fishermen or, worse, prevent our locals from fishing,” he noted.
Esperon also pointed out that, in such a situation, the Chinese were “getting more than their share of marine resources or fisheries” and they could also be blocking the entry of Filipino fishermen in the area.
“We consider those areas, most of them, within our EEZ [exclusive economic zone] and therefore we have sovereign rights over those areas. But we know the dispute that they also have these similar claims,” he continued.
“The dispute remains but when there are just too many of them, meaning fishing boats, then it becomes disadvantageous to us so we go for diplomatic action on that,” he stated.
Esperon also lamented the continuous militarization of Chinese government in Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) reef, Mischief (Panganiban) reef and Subi (Zamora) reef in the Spratly Islands.
“As you very well know, the Fiery Cross feature has now a three-kilometer air strip as well as Mischief and Subi reef. There are big ports there. You would imagine there are warships there but mostly there would be Coast Guard and fishing vessels,” he said.
Despite his dissatisfaction, Esperon said the dispute in the South China Sea was still “manageable” and the Philippines and China were continuously undertaking various diplomatic ways to deal with it.
“Diplomatic actions are just one of it.The elements of power of state would involve diplomacy, economic, military, as well as legal and intelligence — informational. We could use all of those but we are talking here of diplomacy. We don’t even discuss here deploying our military but we can,” Esperon stressed.
“So what’s our choice for now? It’s diplomacy, economic, and informational [means],” he added.