MANILA— Senators must encourage President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately convene the National Security Council so government can finally speak with “one voice” on the West Philippine Sea, former senator Rodolfo Biazon said Thursday.
It will help the administration clarify its stand on the issue not just to the eyes of Filipinos, but also to our allies and even China, according to Biazon.
“It should happen soon. Itong problema ng (The problem in the) West Philippine Sea is not just a problem today. It will be a problem that will have to be addressed by the future administration. And huwag nating pahinain 'yung posisyon ng susunod na administrasyon patungkol dito sa isyu na ito,” he told senators.
(Let's not weaken the position of the next administration regarding this issue.)
Without such clarity from the Philippine government, the strength of the country’s claims will weaken, Biazon, a former military chief, said.
“The present situation is confusing us, Filipinos. Number 2… it’s confusing as a matter of fact, our allies and potential allies in our pursuit of our interest in the West Philippine Sea," he said.
"And number 3, it could be confusing also the enemy. Papaano 'pag sinabi ng namumuno sa kanila na, ‘ay wala namang magagawa ang Pilipinas...'mukhang pinamigay na sa atin 'yan eh.'"
(What if their leader says the Philippines isn't doing anything...it seems like they're just giving it to us.)
Tensions have risen between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, amid the lingering presence of Chinese ships in the waters.
Malacañang, under a President who has pursued friendlier ties with the Chinese, has downplayed the incursions even as the Department of Foreign Affairs filed a flurry of diplomatic protests and the top diplomat unleashed tough rhetoric against China.
Most recently, Duterte ordered his cabinet to stop talking about the issue, save for the top diplomat and the presidential spokesman.
Biazon said the President should also address claims that President Xi Jinping had committed to defend Duterte in the event that the military launches a coup d’etat against his administration, Biazon said.
“Bilang dating sundalo, hindi naman pwedeng ganun na ang ating Pangulo ay aasa sa proteksyon ni Xi Jinping against possible uprising of the Philippine military… palagay ko hindi lang dapat sagutin, ipakita sa body language, ipakita na hindi totoo yun,” he said.
(As a former soldier, our President should not rely on the protection of Xi Jinping against possible uprising of the Philippine military...I think he should not only address it but show it through his body language that it's not true.)
In 1968, Biazon led the military force that first occupied one of the islands within the country’s territorial boundaries during the Marcos regime. The island is now part of the West Philippine Sea.
Biazon also testified before the UN arbitral tribunal on the case filed by the Philippine government against China.
The former lawmaker authored the Philippine Baselines Law, which is being used as basis of the country’s maritime boundaries with neighboring coastal states.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto welcomed Biazon’s proposal.
“I suppose the Senate can support the call. I’ll refer the proposal to our national defense committee,” Sotto said in a text message.
Sen. Grace Poe said she also supports Biazon's recommendations as the council meeting and its would-be decision was a “timely intervention.”
“We cannot be divided as a nation when we talk about our sovereignty. Protecting territorial integrity is so vital to a country's survival that we must not confuse it with friendship or utang na loob (debt of gratitude),” she said.
“This is the country's resources we are talking about. There shouldn't be any debate as to whether we should protect it or not. There is only one constitutional answer - we should. The only thing left for us to discuss now is how,” she added.
Sen. Sonny Angara, however, said convening an NSC meeting would not be necessary at this point since the President has already spoken on the issue.
“The President already instructed the cabinet to speak with one voice; if they still fail to do so going forward then that may be the time to convene as has been suggested. But for now the orders from the top seem clear enough,” he said.