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Philippines – The administration of presumptive president Rodrigo R. Duterte does not consider China as an enemy but has vowed to push national interest in the issue on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea, said new National Security Adviser former Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr. yesterday.
“Why should you look at China as an enemy? But you should remember that we have our national interest. So kung ano ang national interest natin ‘yun ang i-pursue at ipupush natin,” said Esperon.
Asked to elaborate on the national interest, Esperon replied: “Well territory, sovereignty, welfare of our people . . . ‘yung lahat ng territory na ‘yan ay makakadagdag sa betterment of the lives of the citizen, so we will pursue it.”
He added: “Kung i-dedeny sa atin yan . . . there is an UNCLOS decision on that, the convention of law of the seas is signed by member states of the United Nations so we will pursue that and make it work for the good of the Filipino.”
“Whatever comes within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone should be protected,” Esperon said.
According to the former AFP chief, in the Duterte administration’s foreign policy, those that are already in place such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US and the arbitration on the WPS issue will be pursued.
“Those are acts of government hindi naman pwedeng i-abandon at baguhin,” he emphasized, adding: “We will still pursue the arbitration but . . . we will not foreclose other channels whether they be multilateral or bilateral.”
Unlike President Aquino who has refused to hold direct talks with China on the WPS issue, Duterte had told no less than US President Barack Obama during their phone conversation last week that he is open to have bilateral talks with China if current efforts to resolve the issue fail to prosper.
In his first press conference after the May 9 elections, Duterte also said that resolving the territorial conflict in the WPS will not mean going to war, although he emphasized that does not mean that the Philippines under his administration will give up the disputed territory.
The Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines is well aware of his position on the issue, according to Duterte.
“I have talked to them on several occasions that they must understand that I would insist that Spratly thing is out. That they are there illegally, whether they want to believe it or not, that is not my worry. Any talks that we will have will have that predicate that we are claiming the stake for my country,” reports quoted Duterte as saying.
China claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea and in 2012, took control of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal which is well within the Philippines’ EEZ.
In 2013, the Philippines filed a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to challenge China’s claims. A decision on the case is now being awaited.
Esperon said being a National Security Adviser is a very challenging job but stressed that he is honored to become part of Duterte’s Cabinet.
“The the job calls for enhancing or maintaining the way of life of Filipinos, napakabroad ‘yan it also covers national sovereignty and strengthening of institutions. So I hope that with my experience, bureaucracy from military as well as the Cabinet, could be put to use as we go about nation building.” (Elena L. Aben)