MANILA - Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to stop using the "narrative of war" in defending the West Philippine Sea as there are other ways the country could assert its rights in the disputed area.
Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitration bid against Chinese incursions that culminated in victory in 2016, made the remark after the President reiterated his belief that defending the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea would only lead to bloodshed and violence.
The area covers the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.
The disputed area is a major trade route believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.
The former top diplomat said that war is not an option for the country when it comes to such matters, following Chinese President Xi Jinping's threat that there would we war should the country insist on its arbitral win.
"We respectfully urge the President to reject this Chinese narrative of war, because it is intended to scare countries to submit to China’s will of illegally occupying the South China Sea," he said.
When Duterte invoked the 2016 arbitral win invalidating China's historical nine-dash line claim during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last year, China did not wage a war, Del Rosario said.
"We do not see a war being waged by China against us. This should have put to rest the utterly inane notion that invoking the Arbitral Ruling and standing up for our rights are equivalent to waging war against China," he added.
China, however, has refused to honor the ruling, instead ramping up island-building and militarization activities in the waters.
Del Rosario's statement came amid China's incursions in Julian Felipe Reef, also called Whitsun Reef, in the West Philippine Sea.
Demands of Filipino officials for Beijing to withdraw its maritime fleet in the reef prompted the country's allies, such as US and Japan, to voice out their concerns on China's incursion there, with other countries "formally supporting" the 2016 ruling, he pointed out.
"In the past few days, we managed to pressure China to disperse its vessels in Julian Felipe... Reef, not through war or bloodshed, but through the courageous assertion of our rights by our officials and soldiers," Del Rosario said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had earlier demanded the withdrawal of Chinese ships in the waters, calling it illegal.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. also vowed to file diplomatic protests every day until the last Chinese ship from the reef is gone.
'STAND UP FOR WHAT IS OURS'
Del Rosario emphasized that Duterte should follow the steps of Locsin, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) in pushing for sovereignty in the country's territory.
"In the face of continuing aggression by China, we would like to see a stronger and more strategic leadership in our President, as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, to stand up for what is ours," he said.
Del Rosario also noted that it "remains a challenge" for the country to address the presence of some 240 Chinese ships lingering in the vast West Philippine Sea, which was earlier reported by a government task force.
He added that the government has yet to exhaust all options available.
This includes, he said, reiterating the Arbitral Ruling at the United Nations General Assembly in September "to gather more support from other countries" and consolidating support from allies through joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has refused to press Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling.
Instead, he sought to build an alliance with China, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialize.
The Philippines has been securing doses of Sinovac vaccines from the Chinese government for its vaccination drive.
Sinovac is among the 4 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines granted emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines.
- With a report from Reuters