Military to defend Filipinos from China ‘when the time comes’
By Nikko Dizon
“What happened with the use by the Chinese coast guard of water cannon (on) our fishermen is really alarming. However, the incident done by the Chinese coast guard to our fishermen, we believe, does not merit a military response. We have to always [consider] that we do not escalate the already volatile situation in the area,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Zagala said the military follows the government’s thrust of wanting to resolve the territorial dispute with China through diplomatic means.
Zagala said that “we want to protect our people, and we will do so, but the act must be carefully thought out because the area really is volatile,” he said.
Pressed about which government agency would ensure the fishermen’s safety at sea in light of Chinese presence in areas within the Philippines’ exlusive economic zone, Zagala said the military wants to “de-escalate in the situation” in the disputed area.
“Definitely, our AFP’s (mandate) is to protect our people and sovereignty. We are the military force, our Philippine Navy is a military force. We have other agencies in government who are law enforcement in nature such as the Coast Guard and the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). We should look at the force we’re facing. Right now, it’s the Chinese coast guard. I don’t think it would be appropriate if we send the Philippine Navy at this time. It will just escalate the situation,” Zagala said.
“Rest assured that the Armed Forces will do its mandate when the time comes,” he added.
The Philippines has brought the maritime dispute to the United Nations arbitral tribunal for resolution, but China has refused to participate in the proceedings, insisting on resolving the dispute bilaterally.
On Monday, AFP chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista disclosed that the Chinese coast guard trained water cannon on a group of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal, last Jan. 27. The military chief’s details were sketchy, but he said the fishermen reported the incident to the authorities.
“We are using a rules-based international tribunal arbitration and we are a peace-loving country. Our policy is to avoid confrontation to support the peaceful solution of the problems we’re having in the region. So our path is toward that direction. That’s why armed confrontation should be avoided,” Zagala said.
The AFP spokesperson said that in light of the Jan. 27 incident, “the international community can now be aware of what is the real situation there, that it really merits an international response and condemnation.”
Zagala said the military also supports the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to ease tensions in the area.
“These fishermen are trying to make a living through fishing.… I believe that the acts of China are not commensurate to what our fishermen did who are just trying to make a living and are plying traditional fishing routes,” he added.
The militant fisherfolk group, Pamalakaya, questioned the timing of Bautista’s announcement of the Jan. 27 incident.
In a statement, it said that the military should have made it public on the day the fishermen were harassed by the Chinese coast guard.
“Pamalakaya believed that all the statements issued by the AFP Chief is masterfully directed by the US government in a vain attempt to exploit the conflict and advance the agenda of the US to check Beijing’s increasing role in global politics and pursue US global hegemony to control practically everything in East Asia and the Pacific, including South China Sea and the vast oil and gas resources found in the disputed territories,” the group said.
Zagala, however, said he wondered whether Pamalakaya was advancing the interests of the Filipino fishermen or that of China.
“Pamalakaya should protect our fishermen and not bring politics into play. Our efforts here are towards nationalism, the protection of our fishermen. And the last thing we want to hear from a group of fishermen is to go against our very own fishermen,” Zagala said.
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