MANILA - If elected president, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson intends to deploy Philippine Coast Guard vessels to escort Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea as a way to assert the country's sovereignty.
Lacson, in an interview with Boy Abunda, said this would prevent Chinese harassment in the country's territory in the resource-rich and disputed South China Sea.
“Iyong mga fishermen, nawalan ng hanapbuhay, 1,500 ayaw na mangingisda doon. Kaya tayo umi-import ng galunggong eh. Galing din sa West Philippine Sea iyon," Lacson said.
(Our fishermen lost their means of living. At least 1,500 do not want to fish there anymore. That is why we are importing galunggong, even though these are from the West Philippine Sea.)
"[Ang] gagawin ko, pa-eskortan ko ng Philippine Coast Guard - marami na tayong mga bagong barko, ang Philippine Coast Guard - ang ating fishermen. Pero tatawag ako ng joint military exercises with either Australia, US. Willing sila,” added the former national police chief.
(I would ask the PCG to escort our fishermen. The Philippine Coast Guard has several new vessels already. I will also call for joint military exercises with either Australia or US, since they are willing.)
Asked if he thinks the country is ready to wage a defensive war against China should diplomacy fail amid the maritime dispute, Lacson answered in the negative.
The lawmaker, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, believes that what the country should do instead is to strengthen alliances with other militarily-strong countries like the United States, Australia and other European countries.
“So hindi lang tayo naka-escort. Pero sa pamamagitan ng joint military exercises, mayroon tayong kaagapay hanggang sa masanay na tignan ko kung bombahin ng Tsina iyon, tignan ko kung i-ram iyong bangka ng ating mga fishermen, kung mayroong naka-agapay na Philippine Coast Guard, tapos may joint military exercises, maski isang linggo, dalawang linggo, papalit-palit lang," he said.
(We will not just escort our fishermen there. Through joint military exercises, we could be assisted until China gets used to it. Let us see if China will have the guts to bomb the area or even ram our fishermen's boats, if the PCG is assisting them and if there are joint military exercises even for at least 2 weeks.)
A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague junked China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing shunned the ruling and continues military and island-building activities in the international waterway.
Lacson described the arbitral award as important and permanent, saying that international pressure can make the losing party comply with the ruling given the lack of an enforcement mechanism.
In mid-November last year, Lacson visited Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys amid tensions in the disputed waters, during which his team received warnings from the Chinese Navy.
The Philippines-occupied island, located some 450 kilometers west of mainland Palawan, is the seat of Kalayaan town and home to a military outpost and a civilian community.
Analysts have said that the West Philippine Sea should be a primary concern in the 2022 elections.