Ex-DFA chief urges filing of protest, US joint patrols to counter China war threat


THE Duterte administration should immediately prepare for a so-called “dual response” to counter China’s supposed recent war threat, former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said on Monday, May 22.

Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte bared that Chinese President Xi Jinping had threatened war if Manila insists on its plan to conduct a Reed Bank oil exploration and “forces the issue” of last year’s arbitral ruling.

The Reed Bank, also called “Recto Bank,” is internationally recognized as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and is located in the South China Sea. China, however, claims it as part of its territory.

Last July, an arbitral tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, finding that  China’s historic nine-dash line, which claimed almost all the South China Sea, has no historic and legal basis.

In a recent speech, Duterte recalled telling Xi during their meeting in Beijing: “We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours.”

“His response to me, ‘we’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” the president added.

Following Duterte’s statements, Del Rosario urged Manila to respond to Beijing’s alleged threat of war by heeding the advice of Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to file a protest before the United Nations (UN).

“We can expect that the responsible community of nations would be supportive of such a diplomatic action by the Philippine government,” Del Rosario said, stressing that that the use and threats of force are “serious violations” of the UN Charter and that the protest is in the Philippines’ “national interest.”

As part of the “dual response,” Del Rosario also urged the government to revisit the joint patrolling of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with the United States and other allies.

The former top diplomat called on Manila to “pursue a defensive posture” by revisiting the joint patrol strategy of the West Philippine Sea.

He also added that joint patrols with U.S. troops would “effectively posture” Manila’s “security guarantee agreement,” highlighting the two countries’ treaty alliance.

“The joint patrol of our EEZ with the U.S. and possibly other partners would be a combined strategic and tactical move for the Philippine government in defending our national interest and territorial integrity,” Del Rosario said.

On the other hand, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Alan Peter Cayetano refused to confirm or deny reports of China’s alleged war threat.

“It is but natural when you talk about peace and when you talk about conflict the word war may come up, may or may not come up, so I’m not confirming or denying,” Cayetano said in a media briefing.

While refusing to provide more details about the exchange, he affirmed that there “there was no language or even tone that would lead any of the two presidents to believe that there was disrespect for them, or their country.”

The top diplomat also insisted that the word “war” should be put into context, remarking that the talk’s “focus is on avoiding war as opposed to conflict.”

Likewise, Cayetano affirmed Duterte’s commitment to asserting the country’s territory.

“He (Duterte) has told us many many times that he is committed to protecting our territorial integrity. He will protect every single inch of our territory but trust him on how he will do it, how he will approach it and the strategy,” Cayetano said.

Benham Rise renamed

In an apparent bid to assert the country’s territorial claims, Duterte recently signed an executive order (EO) that officially renamed Benham Rise to “Philippine Rise.”

“All departments, subdivisions, agencies, and instrumentalities of the government shall henceforth use and employ the name ‘Philippine Rise’ in all official documents in referring to the undersea feature,” EO 25 read.

Last month, Duterte revealed his plans to rename the area amid reports that Chinese ships were spotted near it.

Located along the Pacific Ocean 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Isabela, the Philippine Rise is believed to be rich in mineral and gas deposits with Manila as its only claimant.

The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2012 approved the submission of Manila in 2009, acknowledging that the region falls within the continental shelf of the Philippines.

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