Defense chief backs protest if China 'bullying' of fishers is proven

Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 11 2018 10:45 AM

Filipino fishermen eat a meal aboard a fishing boat overlooking Chinese fishing vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, April 6, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said he will support the filing of a diplomatic protest against China if its alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea is proven true.

A recent television report showed Chinese coast guard personnel asking for the catch of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground off Zambales province.

The government has yet to validate the reported harassment, Lorenzana noted.

“Gusto ko d'yan mag-protest tayo kung talagang nangyari 'yun. But we have to validate it. Kung magpo-protest tayo, we have to make sure na nangyari nga 'yun,” Lorenzana said.

(I want us to protest if that really happened. But we have to validate it. If we will file a protest, we have to make sure that it really happened.)

Lorenzana also surmised that China will not invade Philippine territory.

“Kahit superpower sila hindi naman nila ugali sakupin ang ibang bansa... They are trying their best to become a respectable superpower, I don't think they will invade us," he said.

(Even if they are a superpower, it is not their practice to invade other countries.)

A Chinese military plane last week landed at the Davao International Airport to refuel, officials have confirmed.

China had coordinated with Philippine aviation authorities about the landing and there was nothing unusual about the incident, said Lorenzana.

'SOFT POWER' VS ASIAN SUPERPOWER

The Defense chief said President Rodrigo Duterte will not order any offensive in the West Philippine Sea, but will instead continue using the soft power of “diplomacy”.

He also refuted Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano's allegation that the Chief Executive had supposedly ordered government troops to stop patrolling the strategic waterway believed to contain oil and gas reserves, and where $5 trillion in trade goods pass annually.

The morale of soldiers, he added, remains high, contrary to Alejano's claim.

A UN-backed tribunal in 2016 invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims to the South China Sea, favoring a protest filed by the previous Aquino administration.

The Duterte administration has set aside the ruling as it sought investments from and closer ties with Beijing.

“Ngayon we can sell our bananas there. We can fish there. Mga tropa natin hindi na hina-harass. Is that mismanagement?" said Lorenzana.

"We have managed it really well. Ang nagmismanaged yung previous administration dahil nagkagulo-gulo dito,” he added.

(We can now sell our bananas to China.We can fish in the South China Sea. Our troops are no longer harassed. Is that mismanagement? We have managed it really well. It was the previous administration that mishandled the issue.)

Beijing has installed an array of airstrips, radar systems and naval facilities on a string of islands it has reclaimed in contested areas in the South China Sea since 2013.

Last May, China deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands off the Philippine coast, CNBC reported, citing sources close to US intelligence.

Manila's defense agency is equipping the military with more modern equipment and facilities under the Horizon Project, said Lorenzana.

The project's second phase cover the purchase of Navy ships, planes, and army equipment while the third phase includes a submarine purchase, he said.