MANILA — Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. on Thursday said upholding the Philippines’ sovereignty over its territorial waters is his top priority in his 10-point agenda in the department.
Faustino said the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will prioritize invoking the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea.
“I am being guided by his pronouncements about how we deal with China, particularly on matters involving other avenues than the conflict that we are discussing here at the West Philippine Sea. More on economic, and he even mentioned about the possibility of a military-to-military exchange with China,” Faustino told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“Still, our sovereignty is inviolable and we have to protect our territorial integrity," he said.
“With or without the arbitral ruling, we will continue to protect what is ours. We are in a better state right now that we were 10 years ago in terms of military capability to conduct maritime security and sovereignty patrols in those areas,” he added.
The 2016 ruling of an international tribunal in The Hague has not stopped Chinese militia and Coast Guard vessels from intruding in waters within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“They have been there for quite some time. Right now, we have sightings of some Chinese militia vessels and Chinese Coast Guard in the contested areas,” Faustino said.
“Through the NTF WPS chaired by the NSA, we coordinate with the NTF WPS on how to address these incursions," he added.
Last month, Chinese vessels harassed Filipino boats that were bringing construction materials and supplies for BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. This happened during the military’s rotation and resupply mission.
But Faustino said the country will continue to assert its sovereignty in the area.
“We also challenge the Chinese kung lumapit sila sa atin. The good thing about it, I heard, ay meron nang communication from our PCG to the CCG, so kung meron mang hindi magandang coordination o magkaroon ng miscalculation… ‘Pag lumapit tayo, they challenge us. ‘Pag lumapit sila, we challenge them also. Sa atin, ang sinasabi natin, teritoryo namin ito, karapatan namin na nandito kami sa lugar na ito,” he said.
“We will insist what we want to do in Ayungin Shoal—and all other areas na may presence tayo—because that is ours. Kung magkaroon ng incursions, we file a diplomatic protest,” he added.
Aside from protecting Philippine territory, Faustino also wants a sustained whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach through the NTF-ELCAC to ensure internal stability.
Also among his 10-point agenda are prioritizing disaster resilience and climate change adaptation, advocating the strengthening of the Reserve Force as force multipliers, ensuring the welfare of soldiers, veterans and civilians, and promoting measures and initiatives that will address emerging and escalating cyber threats, among others.
Faustino hopes his 10-point agenda will be included in Marcos' first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
“Kami naman sa defense ay nakahanda kung anuman ang ipagutos ng ating pangulo, in support sa kanyang mga programa," he said.
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