Palace distances itself from China's militarization of South China Sea, saying it didn't happen overnight
China's militarization of the South China Sea did not happen overnight as reclamation in the disputed waters took place during the previous administration, an official said on Monday.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque admitted the Duterte administration could not do anything with China's activities in the South China Sea.
"Those islands were reclaimed during even the time of the former administration. They were complete in fact during the time of the previous administration, and I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases," he said.
"If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what they want us to do? We cannot declare war ? not only is it illegal, but it is also contrary?but it’s also, because it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point," Roque stressed.
During the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines filed several protests against China's reclamation activities. It even filed a petition before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal questioning China's historic claim and reclamation activities in the disputed waters.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, without China's participation, ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. But Beijing refused to honor the decision.
Roque said what the Duterte administration could do was to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands.
A report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer said China was almost finished transforming the seven reefs claimed by the Philippines in South China Sea into island fortress.
According to report, with its construction, China would soon have military bastions on Kagitingan Reef, known internationally as Fiery Cross Reef; Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs from which to project its power throughout the region.
Panganiban Reef lies within the Philippines' 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
Asked about the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that China promised not to militarize the disputed area, Roque said, "I only speak for the President (Rodrigo Duterte). I don't speak for other members of the Cabinet."
Roque even downplayed the Inquirer report, saying it was no longer new.
"So you know when I saw the headline, yes, it’s a fact perhaps, but is that news? I don’t think so. I think the moment that they start the reclamation, they declared that they will use it?they will have military facilities into the islands," he said.
Roque said the Duterte administration would just continue to rely on China's promise not to conduct further reclamation.
As to China's militarization, he said, " As I said this militarization, if you can call it militarization, did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized and the question is, ‘What can we do? What did the past administration do and what can we do?"
"Right now the posture of the President is maintain close ties so they wouldn’t have any reason to use those arms in those islands," he added.
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said the government should not rely on China's good faith as it would be like relying to a thief who is just trying to enter into one's house.
Roque said Carpio is entitled to his opinion.
"But I would expect that next time, we would read his opinion in the form of a court decision ? because that’s the function of the judicial branch of government....or as I said, he could run an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government," he added. Celerina Monte/DMS