MANILA—The Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday laid out plans to solve the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, saying it is the source of instability and tension in the region.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they are pursuing a 2-pronged approach to assert the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea where China has committed repeated incursions.
On the diplomatic front, Lorenzana named the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) that was established during President Rodrigo Duterte’s first state visit to China in 2016.
This will allow the 2 nations to directly and continuously engage with each other, he said in a statement at a forum hosted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
Under BCM are 4 areas of interest—political and security, oil and gas, fisheries and marine scientific research and marine environment protect—which are handled by technical working groups.
On the domestic front are the internal efforts undertaken by the defense and security sector, such as “enhancing surveillance, enforcement and development capabilities in the West Philippine Sea, Philippine Rise and all maritime domains.”
These surveillance capabilities will enable the country to file diplomatic protests in the event of unlawful action, Lorenzana said.
Law enforcement agencies, like the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine maritime police and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), must also be modernized.
The national task force for the West Philippine Sea, led by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, is pushing legislators to increase the Philippine defense budget to 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), he said.
“As of the moment, a large portion of the defense budget goes to payment of salaries of soldiers and civilian employees, as well as pensions for war veterans, retirees and dependents,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana also said the conflict in the West Philippine Sea remains significant even if China has not built any military facilities in the Philippine territory.
“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,” he said.
Freedom of navigation operations, which the United States and Western states have been exercising, are also at risk, Lorenza said.
"If China continues to militarize its reclaimed facilities in the area, it will have the capability to deter peaceful passage," he said.
He also reiterated that the Philippines' arbitral victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is “final and binding despite china’s non-acceptance, non-recognition, and non-participation.”