The West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute is the top concern as regards the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to the Cabinet’s security cluster.
The security cluster made the assessment as it unveiled the Duterte government’s National Security Policy during yesterday’s pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) conference in Pasay City.
“The dispute over the West Philippine Sea remains the foremost security challenge to the Philippines’ sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.
It said the Philippines “needs to address” the disputes concerning the country’s maritime borders “as they affect a complex range of national security concerns as well as threaten regional peace and stability.”
It also emphasised Manila’s victory in the United Nations (UN)-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague, which ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea. The tribunal invalidated China’s “nine-dash-line” claim in its ruling on July 12, 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte prefers a non-confrontational stance in the West Philippine Sea dispute and has cultivated economic ties with China since assuming the presidency.
The security cluster said the Philippines would “tread with prudence” on the issue by “carefully” calibrating all diplomatic approaches in resolving the matter.
Diplomatic efforts would also avert costly consequences of any potential armed confrontation in the disputed waters, it said.
“The government is looking to begin the process of diplomatic negotiations with neighbouring countries to delimit and define maritime borders and jurisdictions,” the cluster said.
“In this connection, the enactment of laws pertaining to national defence, maritime zones, archipelagic sea lanes and all other matters necessary for compliance with the country’s commitments and obligations under international law is urgent and imperative,” it added.
Presenting the Duterte government’s national security strategy, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had deployed more troops within the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys), Tawi-Tawi and Batanes.
In Kalayaan, the military sent troops in the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Panata (Lankiam Cay) Island, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Rizal (Commodore) Reef and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
In Tawi-Tawi, military presence was “enhanced” in Mardanas and Panguan islands. This was also the case in the Batanes islands of Itbayat and Mavulis.
Esperon said the military and the department of national defence (DND) had ordered naval surface patrols within Philippine territories, covering more than 180,000 nautical miles of the country’s maritime domain and more than 2,400 flying hours of maritime air patrol.
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