MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo on Thursday said she had a "comprehensive and fruitful discussion" with retired Filipino generals, two days after Chinese vessels fired water cannons at Filipino boats in the West Philippine Sea.
"The expert views of these generals and respected military strategists are very much appreciated, as we recognize that with threats both present and evolving, we need an institutional, comprehensive, and deliberate approach to national security," Robredo said in a statement.
In a Facebook post, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, her running mate in the 2022 elections, was also shown attending the meeting.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier confirmed that Chinese Coast Guard vessels on Tuesday, Nov. 16, blocked and used water cannons against Filipino supply boats that were transporting food supplies to military personnel at the BRP Sierra Madre based in Ayungin Shoal.
Esperon, chair of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, said the bombardment lasted for an hour.
"This kind of treatment to Filipinos must stop. WPS is ours as the arbitration tribunal ruled in July 2016," Robredo said, referring to a UN-backed court ruling that invalidated China's expansive economic claims in the South China Sea, where the West Philippine Sea is located.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, no one was hurt in the incident but the supply boats identified as Unaiza Mae 1 and 3 had to abort the mission.
Manila has diplomatically protested and condemned "in strongest terms" the actions of the Chinese vessels, which according to Esperon took place "within our sovereign territory."
Robredo, a presidential contender in Halalan 2022, said the amount of time needed to plan a Philippine security policy and strategy regarding its maritime and territorial disputes with China "must be long-term for sustained implementation, regardless of changes in administration."
"Coherence in national security planning and economic development planning is important," she said, adding her office is committed to continued consultations with retired senior military officers.
Robredo also thanked them for "looking out for the Filipino."
Those who attended the meeting were former Armed Forces chiefs of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban and Gen. Hernando Iriberri, former Navy flag OIC Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, former AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison Jr., former Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong, former AFP internal auditor and spokesperson Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, and Maj. Gen. Arnold Mancita.
The Vice President, an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's policy of setting aside Philippines' arbitral victory for friendly relations with Beijing, has said the West Philippine Sea issue is non-negotiable.
If elected president in 2022, Robredo said she is open to working with China as part of an inclusive and independent foreign policy "but when it comes to the West Philippine Sea, we cannot deal with them without their recognition of the arbitral ruling."
Duterte, for the most part of his term, refused to assert the arbitral ruling, calling it “a piece of paper," and warned that Philippines cannot wage a war against China.
But in late September, he also told the United Nations General Assembly that no "willful disregard" by any country "can diminish" the 2016 ruling.
FROM THE ARCHIVES