PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan, Philippines – The military is unfazed by reports that China is ready to use cannons if the dispute over the West Philippine Sea turns ugly.
Armed Forces Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said they are ready to address any threat or intrusion into Philippine territory.
“As we have always said, any threat, any intrusion or any violation in the code of conduct of claimant countries, we are determined to protect our territory and sovereignty,” Sabban said during the Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercise conducted by military troops here.
“Mere deployment of missiles or the sound of cannons will not scare us from protecting our own territory,” he added.
Sabban maintained that the Philippine military will not be confrontational on the issue.
“As we have been saying before, we are non-confrontational but this will not deter us from protecting our sovereignty and territory,” he said.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all have claims on the Spratly Islands, which is located in the West Philippine Sea. The island group is believed to be rich in mineral resources.
On Tuesday, Chinese newspaper The Global Times warned other claimant countries to “prepare for the sound of cannons” if the situation in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) deteriorates.
The Global Times is owned by The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party.
“If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons,” wire reports quoted The Global Times as saying.
“We need to be ready for that as it may be the only way for the disputes in the seas to be resolved.”
The Global Times also claimed that claimant states, including the Philippines, are using China’s diplomatic stance to push their agendas.
“Currently, China’s mainstream understanding is that it should first go through the general channels of negotiating with other countries to solve sea disputes. But if a situation turns ugly, some military action is necessary,” the Chinese newspaper’s editorial read.
Puerto Princesa Vice Mayor Lucilo Bayron is confident that The Global Times article would not result in attacks that could affect the province.
He is also optimistic that the ties between the Philippines and China would remain strong.
“I think we have a good working relationship with them (China). I do not have fears that this development would result in the bombing of mainland Palawan,” Bayron told reporters here.
Bayron said they are even inviting Chinese tourists to visit their province.
“Our leaders have already talked about this and we will resolve it diplomatically and peacefully,” he said.
The military’s Western Command, meanwhile, said it will follow the orders of higher authorities on whether to return the boats of Chinese fishermen who strayed into Philippine waters last week.
“This will now depend on higher authorities and it will go though the legal process,” Sabban said. “Whatever our leaders tell us, we have to comply.”
On Oct. 18, a Navy gunboat on patrol in the West Philippine Sea collided with a Chinese fishing vessel.
At around 6 a.m, the Navy’s PS-74 gunboat reportedly approached the Chinese vessel to take a closer look but encountered steering problem caused by big waves and rammed into the ship.
After being hit by the Navy gunboat, the Chinese fishing vessel fled, releasing the 25 smaller boats it was towing. No Chinese fisherman was arrested after the incident. The small boats, on the other hand, were placed under the custody of the Naval Forces of the Western Command.
The Navy had said that the collision was an “accident” and “not a hostile act.”
The collision happened in the vicinity of the Recto Bank which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone but is also among the islets in the contested Spratly Islands.
After the incident, China justified the activities of Chinese fishermen who strayed into Philippine waters and claimed that the actions of the Philippines had harmed the “lawful right and interests of fishermen.”
China also asked the Philippines to “unconditionally return the Chinese dinghies as soon as possible and appropriately handle relevant issues.”
Jiang Yu, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, maintained that China has “indisputable sovereignty ”over the Spratly Islands.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said there is no need to apologize to China for the collision.
Sabbad maintained that the military was enforcing maritime laws when the incident happened.
“First of all, we are just enforcing maritime laws in our territory. They violated that. They’re not supposed to be there. We have to apply the law to anyone who intrudes in our territory,” he said.
He said there have been at least nine incidents of intrusion into Philippine territory reported since January.
Sabbad, however, believes the incident in Recto Bank is not a cause for alarm.
Bayron also believes the incident will not cause more tension in the disputed islands.
“There were small fishing boats that were towed but the incident is too minor to cause a big crisis,” he said.
He is optimistic that the relationship between China and the Philippines would remain healthy despite the incident.
- PHL, Vietnam join forces over Spratlys issue (thepoc) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- DFA chief: China paper’s comments on Spratlys row ‘irresponsible’ (Inter Aksyon) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- China may resort to force in Spratlys dispute (Business Mirror) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Aquino, Sang vow peaceful solution to Spratlys row (Gulf Today) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- DFA hits China over ‘cannons’ statement (ABS-CBN News) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- US, Filipino marines hold combat drill near South China Sea shoal disputed by Beijing, Manila (Washington Post) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)