MANILA – The Duterte administration has been consistent in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), National Security Adviser and National Task Force for the WPS chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
The government is working to enhance stations in the area and doing its best to protect resources in the WPS, Esperon said.
“We want to reassure our esteemed lawmakers that this administration led by the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte) is doing its best and as the chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, I can say his involvement in protecting our sovereignty in the area (is) very well prepared,” Esperon said in a Laging Handa interview Wednesday.
This came in the wake of the Chinese Coast Guard’s act of blocking and firing water cannons on two Philippine boats transporting supplies to Philippine military personnel at the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal on November 16.
The move drew international criticism and from President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who said the incident “does not speak well of relations” between Manila and Beijing. Asked about plans to replace the deteriorating BRP Sierra Madre anchored on the Ayungin Shoal, Esperon said there are several options, including preserving the ship.
“Well, we have several options there. The BRP Sierra Madre is still a commissioned (naval vessel) so one option is to preserve it so that it remains as our permanent detachment,” he said.
Apart from preserving the ship, a lighthouse or other structures can be installed to house Philippine troops and fishermen, he said.
“Ngunit kung anong gusto nating gawin diyan ay magagawa natin dahil nasa sa ating exclusive economic zone iyan (But whatever we decide to do, we can do that because that area lies in our exclusive economic zone),” he added.
A week after the incident, the Philippines resumed its resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal.
However, reports said Chinese Coast Guard personnel aboard a rubber boat allegedly took pictures and videos of the mission.Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian has vowed to look into the incident, an act which the Philippines views as a form of intimidation and harassment. (PNA)