Malacañang on Monday, June 25, said it was former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration that first militarized the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which led to the heightened Chinese presence in the disputed waters.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., in a news briefing in Cagayan de Oro City, mentioned the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte’s predecessor to deploy the country’s biggest warship to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012 to block Chinese vessels from the rich fishing area.
“Just to be realistic, if we will use violence like what Aquino did, which is the reason behind the Chinese presence in the Panatag [Shoal] — the deployment of the Navy ship — will result in a military standoff that we are dodging,” Roque said.
“Let us not forget that it was [former] President Aquino who first militarized [West Philippine Sea] when he brought the Philippine Navy [there]. That is why the Chinese never left the Scarborough,” he added.
According to Roque, Duterte refuses to apologize for his softer approach against China and remain firm by his pronouncements that war would break out if the Philippines took a hard-line approach on the dispute.
“The [issue on the] disputed islands, we have to resolve this through diplomacy and we cannot have diplomacy if you are fighting the side that you need to talk to in order to resolve the disputed islands,” Roque said.
Roque’s statement was in response to Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio criticizing Duterte’s constant warning that fighting for the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea would lead to war with China.
During the graduation ceremony of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance on Friday, June 22, Carpio said Duterte’s statements were divisive.
“[The president] is an author of the foreign policy. His consistent position is we will not give away any territories and we will not fight,” Roque responded.