MANILA - Malacañang said Monday the Philippines under former President Benigno Aquino III started the “militarization” of South China Sea, as it defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s friendly stance towards the Chinese.
Duterte has been criticized for his friendliness towards China despite the latter’s aggressive moves in the disputed sea.
The President has said antagonizing China over the dispute will bring the Philippines no good as it cannot counter Beijing’s military might.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the situation would not have worsened had Aquino not sent the Philippine Navy’s biggest warship to ward off Chinese poachers in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in 2012.
“Kung tayo ay gagamit ng dahas gaya ng ginawa ni Presidente Aquino na naging dahilan kung bakit nandoon ang mga Tsino sa Panatag, — iyung pagpapadala ng isang Navy ship — magre-reresulta iyan sa hidwaang militar na iniiwasan natin,” Roque said in a press briefing in Cagayan de Oro City.
(If we will use force like what President Aquino did which was the reason why the Chinese are there in Panatag - he sent a Navy ship there - this would result in a war which we don’t want to happen.)
“Nung nakipag-away tayo, pinagtabuyan tayo sa Panatag. Huwag nating kalimutan na si Presidente Aquino ang unang nag-militarize n'yan dahil siya ang nagpadala ng Navy, kaya hindi na tuluyang umalis ang mga Tsino.”
(When we fought the Chinese, we were driven away from Panatag. Let’s not forget that it was President Aquino who first militarized the area by sending the Navy, that’s why the Chinese won’t leave the place now.)
Scarborough, called by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China. The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.
China gained effective control of the shoal after Manila withdrew its vessel. It then started blocking Filipino fishermen from the shoal.
Lamenting the Chinese blockade, the Aquino administration hailed China to an international arbitral tribunal in 2013.
As the international tribunal heard the Philippine case, China began building artificial islands over the South China Sea features it controlled.
The United Nations-backed tribunal then decided in 2016 in favor of Manila, invalidating China’s expansive “9-dash line” claim. It also declared Scarborough as a traditional fishing ground for both the Philippines and China.
President Duterte has said he would raise Manila’s legal victory against China at the proper time.
Duterte’s overtures to Beijing lowered the tension in Scarborough, with Chinese Presidet Xi Jinping promising to allow Filipino fishermen back into the rocky outcrop.
But fishermen say China continues to have control over the shoal despite the decision of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 which declared it as a traditional fishing ground for both China and the Philippines.
Roque said Duterte would not apologize for his policy on China.
The US and its allies have slammed China for “militarizing” the South China Sea for building artificial islands and deploying military equipment there.
China, however, said it was the US which was the one militarizing the sea with its freedom of navigation operations.