The Department of National Defense (DND) warned on Friday that freedom of navigation operations (Fonops) at the West Philippine Sea (WPS or South China Sea) may be at risk should Beijing continue its militarization activities.
Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna said China’s militarization activities over its reclaimed areas would also make it capable of deterring peaceful passage in the whole West Philippine Sea.
“Freedom of navigation operations is at risk if China continues to militarize its reclaimed facilities in the area, as it will have the capability to deter peaceful passage in the whole of South China Sea,” Luna pointed out.
“There remains a valid security threat arising from China’s reclamation activities in the area, which infringes upon our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our exclusive economic zone,” Luna said in a speech during a forum with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Makati Chapter at the Manila Polo Club.
Despite this, Luna assured that China “has not built any naval base or military facility” within the Philippine territory at the contested waters, saying this would constitute to an “outright violation of our sovereignty.”
Luna made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarked that he would have to set aside the 2016 arbitral ruling favoring Manila over its claim at the South China Sea, disregarding Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim, for the joint exploration to be pursued by the two nations.
The DND official said the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision “did not rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory nor delimit any boundary between the Philippines and China.”
But Luna assured the government had undertaken actions pursuant to the arbitral ruling that was clustered into two: diplomatic and domestic actions.
He explained that diplomatic actions done by Manila included the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) that was formed during Duterte’s first state visit to China in October 2016.
The BCM is considered as the primary bilateral dialogue mechanism between the Philippines and China on its territorial disputes and overlapping claims within the South China Sea.
It is also composed of four working groups designated for political-security, oil and gas, fisheries and marine scientific research, and marine environment protection.
Through the BCM, Luna said Manila had been engaging with Beijing in discussing the matters and issues hounding the ongoing dispute at the South China Sea, with Manila “reaffirming our commitment to international laws,” especially to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 Asean-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea.
“More particularly, the government has been very consistent and firm in raising alarm and opposition to China’s continued militarization in the South China Sea,” he said.
Malacañang admitted earlier this year that Manila could only file protests against China over its militarization activities in the South China Sea since Beijing was already “in control” of the area.
As to domestic actions, Luna said the government, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines, had been “harmonizing and enhancing” its surveillance in securing and developing the West Philippine Sea, Philippine (Benham) Rise and the rest of the country’s maritime territories.