The Philippines is not yet capable of defending its territory in the disputed South China Sea amid China’s continuing aggressiveness in the disputed area, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, June 4.
In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News, the defense chief said it may take some time for the Philippines to acquire the ships, weapons and equipment needed to defend claimed areas in the South China Sea.
“At present, we don’t have capabilities to even just demonstrate to others that we are capable, because we are not capable,” Lorenzana said.
According to him, Manila is looking at upgrading the runway on Pag-asa Island, which is part of the Palawan province.
“Our sole airstrip in Pag-asa is still very short, and it’s still unpaved. We’re trying to pave that so that we can bring in our aircraft anytime,” he said, adding that it will take the runway five days of sunny weather to be hard enough for aircraft to land on.
‘Nothing we can do’
The Philippines cannot do anything about China’s claims in the South China Sea, according to Lorenzana.
“I think all we can do now is (file a) diplomatic protest, and talk to them. There is nothing we can do,” he said, citing China’s refusal to honor the ruling of the arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing’s nine-dash line claim in the disputed sea.
“But since China won’t accept it, what can we do? And China, in fact, during the pendency of the arbitral ruling, they double timed the reclaiming of the reefs,” he said.
Lorenzana met with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis during the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 17th Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The pair discussed measures to boost information sharing and maritime domain awareness cooperation.
According to Mattis’ spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, the two defense chiefs also reviewed the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and its implications for the alliance.
“Both leaders emphasized the need to keep the Indo-Pacific free and open and highlighted the central importance of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in upholding the rules-based order,” Davis said.