IT was the previous administration that mishandled the dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), not the Duterte administration, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed on Monday, June 11.
In a news conference after a flag-raising ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Lorenzana insisted that the handling of the Aquino administration led to the “chaotic” dispute.
“We have managed it very well through the president’s leadership…The one who mismanaged it was the previous administration wherein everything went chaotic,” he told reporters.
Lorenzana noted that when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency, the dispute between Manila and Beijing was close to boiling point.
“What we saw when we assumed is that we had no trades with China, they were not purchasing our products and there were no Chinese tourists going here. We were also not able to fish within Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and [the Chinese]were harassing our troops back then,” the Defense chief explained.
“Now, they buy all our bananas, the tourists here have doubled, and we can fish there [at Scarborough],” he added.
The only harassment incident that happened under the Duterte administration was the hovering of a Chinese helicopter over Philippine Navy troopers aboard a rubber boat, which was on a supply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. It was an “isolated case,” he said.
“So, is that mismanagement?” Lorenzana asked.
China will not invade PH
Lorenzana also downplayed talk that China was out to invade the Philippines, an idea floated by former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales.
“You know, although China is a superpower, it is not in their culture to invade other countries even in ancient times,” Lorenzana said.
“So, I don’t think they will invade and they are trying their best to become also a good, respectable superpower [country],” he added.
Lorenzana said it would be best if the Philippines stuck to diplomatic options in addressing the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea.
“We will use diplomacy. War is hard power while soft power is talking to the Chinese,” Lorenzana noted.
Meanwhile, a multi-sectoral group on Monday said the crisis in the West Philippine Sea can be resolved if the Philippines and China will enter into a joint exploration and development in the contested waters.
Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia, advisory board chairman of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR), noted that a joint exploration agreement would not only help maintain peace but would also lessen the dependence of countries in Southeast Asia on Middle East crude.
De Venecia made the proposal before members of the Chinese think tank, the China Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS), during their meeting held in Makati City.
“We would like to take advantage of your presence in the Philippines to suggest through the PCFR a proposal for a joint exploration and joint development of the South China Sea,” de Venecia told the members of the CCCWS led by Jin Xin, director-general of the CCCWS.
The CCCWS is involved in the field of research on international situation, political party politics, political system in foreign countries, China’s foreign strategies, socialist theories, social and political trends, and comparative studies in development modes.
De Venecia explained that instead of importing oil from the Middle East, the Philippines and China could begin drilling oil wells in the WPS and supply their own markets.
“Why do we need to import oil when right in our own backyard in the South China Sea, and east Philippines sea we have the great potential where we can immediately drill wells,” he added.
The former speaker said other claimants like Vietnam can join the venture.
“Initially it will be between the Philippines and China and will be immediately joined by Vietnam so it will become a tripartite agreement,” he said.
Malaysia and Brunei can also join in “so nobody will be excluded,” de Venecia said.
Jin welcomed the proposal.
He maintained that China has provided great importance to the WPS issue and Chinese President Xi Jinping had said that claimant countries should shelve their differences and make the area a sea of peace and friendship.
“We believe that mankind still has a lot of room to explore in terms of exploration of oceans as well as space resources and we surely can enhance our cooperation in those regard,” Jin added.