Duterte: PH vessels to continue patrolling WPS

South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Image: Twitter

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte has assured the public that the country will not abandon its claims in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement read by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Duterte maintained that his position in the West Philippine Sea will not waver.

“Our principal position and stand on the West Philippine Sea remains. I have said it before and I will say it again. Our agencies have been directed to do what they must and should to protect and defend our nation’s interests,” he said Tuesday, May 18.

“Our vessels will continue to patrol relevant areas to firmly assert what is ours,” he added.

Duterte also stressed that Filipinos stand on their principles, especially if it’s for the Philippines.

“The Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be where they need to be. We will not waver in our position,” he said.

“Ang Pilipino ay may prinsipyo at mayroong paninindigan lalo na para sa Inang Bayan (A Filipino has principles and determination, especially for the Motherland),” he added.

However, Duterte emphasized his preference to resolve the maritime dispute peacefully.

“We must be willing to do what we can as responsible members of the international community to resolve disputes peacefully,” he said.

“Let us fully utilize the Bilateral Consultation Mechanisms or BCM and other diplomatic venues to engage China,” he added.

Gag order

During his weekly public address aired on Monday, May 17, Duterte barred officials from discussing the West Philippine Sea row publicly.

“This is my order now to the Cabinet and to all — all and sundry, talking for the government to refrain discussing itong West Philippine Sea with…anybody,” he said.

“If we have to talk, we talk and tayo-tayo lang (it would just be among us), and there is one spokesman — si Secretary Harry will do it. Now you get the picture,” he added.

Roque, for his part, clarified that Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will also be allowed to speak on the issue.

“The instruction of the President was clear. Only the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and myself can speak on the issue now,” he said Tuesday.

When asked whether the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) is covered by the gag order, the spokesman answered: “Well, you know, reports of the NTF are forwarded to the DFA and they would determine if they will file diplomatic protest. So, these are matters, facts, which are relevant to diplomatic communications covered by executive privilege.”

“So although there is transparency, an exception to transparency are diplomatic communications and that includes also inputs which form the basis of diplomatic communication,” Roque added.

Last week, the NTF-WPS released a report saying that a maritime patrol sighted a total of 287 Chinese maritime militia ships over various features near the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan, both within and outside the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It also noted that bigger groupings of Chinese maritime militia were spotted at the artificial islands built by China in the area as well as Philippine-occupied islands.

For its part, the NTF WPS assured that it will continue asserting the country’s territorial and sovereignty rights over the contested waterway.

“The National Task Force remains guided by the national policy and interest in asserting our territorial and sovereignty rights as upheld by the 2016 arbitral ruling,” it said.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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