MANILA — Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro on Wednesday blasted the Chinese foreign ministry's seeming threat to the Philippines after the Coast Guard's removal of a floating barrier in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
He said that the barrier was a hazard to the safety of fishers going into the shoal's lagoon.
"If it triggers something from China, it is just proving that [they have] total disregard for maritime safety," Teodoro told journalists at the sidelines of the defense department's budget deliberations in the Senate.
"Provocation na ba 'yun sa kanila? Ano ba ang provocation, yung paglalagay ng barrier o pagtatanggal na iligal na harang? Hindi naman tayo nagi-stir ng trouble, hindi naman tayo ang kumukubkob eh," the defense chief added.
(Is that already provocation to them? Which is the provocation: Putting up a barrier or removing an illegal barrier? We're not stirring up trouble. We're not the ones occupying it.)
The PCG announced on Monday that it had successfully removed the barrier from the reef in a special operation ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday said Beijing "firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan island," referring to the shoal by its Chinese name. "We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble."
'A CLEAR THREAT'
Teodoro said the Chinese spokesman's statement was a clear threat to the Philippines.
"Lalong-lalo na 'yan ha banta na 'yan. Ano ang reaksyon ng Pilipino diyan, tatanungin ko. Siyempre, lalo tayong malalayo sa kanila," Teodoro said.
(Especially with this threat. How will Filipinos react to that, I ask you. Of, course, that will drive us farther away from China.)
What China has been doing for years, he added, only indicates that "they have really an intent to control the South China Sea."
"Kailangan tutulan natin yun dahil meron tayong sovereign rights at saka territorial jurisdiction, territorial claims. Pero yung mga pangkukubkob, undeniable yun sa reclamation ng mga ginagawa nila, sa pagtataboy ng ating mga mangingisda," Teodoro said.
(We have to oppose that because we have sovereign rights, territorial jurisdiction, territorial claims. But the occupation, that is undeniable with their reclamation and their driving our fisherfolk away.)
The defense secretary stressed the Philippines cannot negotiate nor enter a "50-50" sharing agreement with China because it is prohibited by the Constitution.
The government, Teodoro said, continues to strengthen its defense forces to ensure that the nation’s territory and interests will be ably protected.
Teodoro said that he is against the idea of engaging in a war, emphasizing that he still prefers a "beautiful and principled discussion" with China which is according to Philippine laws and international law.
Asked for his opinion if the Philippines' repeated call out to China is making a dent in the situation, Teodoro said: "Whether or not makinig sila, may diplomasya pa eh."
(Diplomatic avenues remain.)
The PCG's removal of China’s floating barriers in Bajo de Masinloc, the defense chief stressed, is with the country’s territorial rights.
Asked if the Philippine government should now drive away Chinese ships swarming the Philippine waters, Teodoro said: "Kung kakayanin they should, unless it is a traditional fishing ground."
As for China's allegation that BRP Sierra Madre should be removed from Ayungin Shoal for polluting nearby waters, Teodoro said: “Sino ba nagpo-pollute? Tayo ba o sila? Eh yung swarming ng vessels nila, alangan namang walang pollution yun."
"Pangalawa, sino ba ang nanira ng marine environment para gumawa ng isla? Eh di sila... it’s like a pot calling the kettle black... parang hindi tinitingnan yung sarili bago magsalita."