MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines should seek alliance with the world's powerful militaries amid its maritime dispute with China, a senator said Tuesday.
"As I have repeatedly suggested, we should build stronger alliances with other militarily powerful and capable countries who may be willing to help our cause as it would also advance their own national interests if they maintain their presence alongside our naval assets in the vicinity of the WPS (West Philippine Sea)," Sen. Ping Lacson said in a statement.
He noted that the Philippines "should not abandon whatever negotiations with China are underway or in the pipeline as we speak."
"However, we should not also disregard other options available, not only to finally resolve the WPS issue but to provide the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region," the senator said.
Lacson said this in response to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile's advice to President Rodrigo Duterte to keep a friendly approach towards Beijing and ignore those criticizing his stance on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
"Kailangan na friendly ang approach natin d’yan, hindi hard assertive and aggressive approach," Enrile told Duterte in a taped meeting Monday.
"Kung hindi tayo magkakaunawaan sa Tsina, madadamay ang interes ng ating mga kababayan, ating ekonomiya pati na rin ang ating seguridad dito sa usapin na ito," added the former lawmaker.
(Our approach there should be friendly, not hard and aggressive. If we fail to reach an agreement with China, our economy and security will be affected.)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meantime, said government can study the feasibility of undertaking oil exploration within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone to affirm its claim.
“Hindi naman tayo pwedeng pagbawalan ng China kung gusto nating i-explore ang natural and mineral resources sa ating EEZ dahil atin iyon, pagmamay-ari natin iyon. Kung interesado ang China, pwede naman silang maging joint partner natin pero 60-40 ang hatian dahil tayo ang may-ari nung area,” he said in a statement.
(China can't prohibit us from exploring the natural and mineral resources in our EEZ because that's ours. If they're interested they can be our joint partner and we can split it 60-40 because we own that area.)
“Huwag nating sayangin ang economic opportunity na available sa atin (Let's not waster the economic opportunity available to us.). Our government leaders should start scouting for investors who are willing to pour in funds to explore the rich aquatic resources in the area, there are oil and gas reserves and other natural resources in the depths of these waters."
Duterte had said he does not see anything wrong with China’s proposal to share oil resources in the West Philippine Sea, as long as Manila gets the bigger share.
Manila's maritime row with Beijing made headlines anew after hundreds of Chinese ships were sighted in Philippine waters in March. The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.
China has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a UN-backed tribunal that rejected its historical 9-dash line claim in response to a Philippine filing. Duterte has called this legal victory "just a piece of paper" that belongs to the "waste basket."
The United States, a key Philippine defense ally, has been vocal against aggressive actions in the South China Sea as it asserted freedom of navigation in the critical trading route.