MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Tuesday warned that the Philippines could be used as a "stepping mat" by "predatory" China if Manila does not improve its defense capabilities.
Enrile, in explaining his vote to approve the Status of Forces Visiting Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia, said he already aired the warning years ago during the debates on a similar pact with the United States.
"The record will show... I delivered in the halls of this Senate a speech regarding the predatory character of our neighbor in the mainland of Asia and I warned this country at that time, as early as that time, to prepare and provide this country with a security umbrella commensurate to its interest in order that it will not be a stepping mat of the PROC," he said.
China and the Philippines are engaged in a dispute over ownership of the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing's overwhelming military advantage over Manila has prompted new moves to strengthen the Philippines' armed forces.
"The succeeding leaders of this country never heeded the warning that I've given," Enrile said. "I think that because we have reached this point... our security deficiency and considering the fact that we do not have the wherewithdal to provide ourselves immediately with the necessary equipment in order to protect our people and our national interest and the integrity of our territory and the soveriegnty of this country, it becomes a matter of necessity for us to seek friends around us."
The Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading the ratification of the Philippines-Australia SOVFA. Seventeen senators voted in favor of Senate Resolution No. 788, with only Senator Joker Arroyo rejecting it.
"Concurrence with the ratification of the SOVFA will not only pave the way for us to improve our defense mechanisms, it will also solidify our decades-old relationship with Australia," Enrile said.
The Senate resolution concurred with President Benigno Aquino's ratification of the Philippines-Australia SOVFA, which sets enhanced bilateral defense and military cooperation between the 2 countries. - with a report from Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News