PH refusal to join South China Sea maritime drills impacts credibility: analyst

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 05 2020 09:33 AM | Updated as of Aug 05 2020 10:33 AM

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MANILA - The Philippines' refusal to join maritime exercises with other nations in the disputed South China Sea sends a signal that it is not willing to "put its money where its mouth is," an analyst said Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the Philippine Navy would not join the exercises for fear of raising tensions in the region.

The exercises, however, would not create tension as there is a "lot of transparency historically" in its conduct, according to Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

"Withdrawing from these exercises however sends a different signal now to other potential competitors that the Philippines is not really willing at this time to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to external defense because it refuses to conduct simple exercises with its allies and other countries on the waters it claims to be within its jurisdiction," he told ANC.

Other countries will be "disappointed" that the Philippines will not participate considering its strategic position, Batongbacal said.

"In a way it impacts on our credibility since we're the ones most directly concerned in this region and our ability in the future to participate with our allies on these types of operations because we are the direct beneficiary and yet we do not seem to be willing to even have a stake on the activities," he said.

"It affects perception about our reliability as a partner or as an ally in these types of activities."

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said in his fifth State of the Nation Address that he "cannot do anything" against Beijing's pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Manila. 

The Philippines should "just cool off" and pursue "diplomatic endeavors" to counter China's sweeping claims to the area "unless we are prepared to go to war," Duterte said.

"China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it so it’s simple as that. They are in possession of the property… So what can we do? We have to go to war, and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other President can, but I cannot," the President said. 

"Inutil ako d’yan and I’m willing to admit it. Talagang inutil ako d’yan, walang magawa," he added.. 

(I'm inutile there and I’m willing to admit it. I'm really inutile there, I can't do anything.)

Batongbacal said a radical shift in the Duterte administration's approach in addressing the West Philippine Sea issue in its remaining years was "probably out of the question."

"What we've seen so far are swings in posture and its appearances, I don't think that’s going to change under this admin. We’ve seen when it comes to this issue it does not really been becoming of major changes," he said.

The Philippines last month asserted its arbitral victory against China's sweeping claims in the disputed sea was non-negotiable.

Beijing, however, has continued to ignore the ruling and said it was "illegal and invalid" and even warned the US for its "intensified meddling."

Manila in April filed diplomatic protests against Beijing's move and said declaring its territory as part of a Chinese province violated international law and Philippine sovereignty. It also protested the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters. 

Last year, China sank a Philippine fishing boat near Recto Bank and left its 22 crew at sea, who were then rescued by Vietnamese fishers.