The Philippine Navy needs more warships to guard the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea against potential foreign threats, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, a member of the House national defense and security committee, said Sunday.
“The Philippine Navy has to establish a credible presence there—in terms of combat ships—if we are to discourage foreign seaborne threats, including poachers,” he said amid reports that several hundred Chinese vessels have been seen around Pagasa Island and that Chinese fishermen were stealing giant clams from Philippine waters.
“The reality is, the Navy lacks battle-ready ships. This is why we are having difficulty enforcing our sovereign rights over our EEZ there,” he said.
“Our naval warfare service should at least be as formidable as Indonesia’s, which has three fleets of larger and faster ships, including submarines.”
The University of the Philippines’ Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea earlier lamented that Chinese fishing vessels around Panatag Shoal were illegally harvesting giant clams that were originally sown by Filipino marine biologists for restocking.
Panatag, or Scarborough Shoal, is chain of mostly submerged reefs and rocks about 198 kilometers west of Subic Bay.
“It is unfortunate that the Philippine Navy’s top three warships are least 50 years old, and one of them is out for repair,” the Surigao del Sur lawmaker said.
He was referring to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and the BRP Andres Bonifacio – all decommissioned US Coast Guard patrol boats acquired by the Philippines through America’s Excess Defense Articles Program.
Del Pilar, the Navy’s flagship, is being restored after it ran aground last year at Hasa-Hasa Shoal in the West Philippine Sea off Palawan.
The Navy under the Duterte administration has already ordered two new missile-armed frigates worth some P18 billion, including P2 billion for their weapons systems and munition.
The first frigate is due for delivery by March 2020, while the second one is due to arrive in 2021.
“The two frigates are a definitely a good start, but sadly, they won’t be enough. Indonesia has at least eight frigates, among other warships,” Pimentel said.
“The next Congress should see to it that the Navy gets all the new funding needed to acquire more warships in the years ahead,” he said.
He called “sad” the Navy’s lack of warships, despite the country’s vast territorial waters and extensive coastline requiring round-the-clock protection.
Pimentel said decades of domestic insurgency have caused succeeding governments to build up the Army at the expense of the Navy and the Air Force.
Under international law, the Philippines enjoys sovereign rights over the country’s EEZ for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources, whether living and nonliving, of the seabed and subsoil and the superjacent waters and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone.
“We need more warships to protect our strategic maritime interests, including those in our EEZ,” Pimentel said.
On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. continued his word war with critics on social media who have hit his refusal to act on Chinese poaching in Scarborough Shoal.
“If this clam issue ends up with China GRANTING us PERMISSION and even help to save the clams—thereby eroding our victory in the Hague—I will tear out your genitals with pliers,” Locsin said on Twitter, without specifying the target of his ire.
“Putrefaction ang ina niyo. Just leave things alone you idiotesses,” he said.
On Tuesday, he told a social media user to “shut up about the clams” because remarks on it could compromise Manila’s victory in a Hague-based arbitration court that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to the waterway.
President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week agreed to resolve the maritime row through “peaceful, diplomatic” means, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said.
In a statement hours after the President arrived in his hometown in Davao, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President’s participation in Beijing’s forum paved the way for the signing of several business agreements that will provide employment for Filipinos.
“The Chief Executive witnessed the signing of 19 business agreements, covering a wide range of areas of investments such as in energy, infrastructure that includes tourism-related facilities and internet connectivity, agriculture, and training of Filipinos sojourning in China,” Panelo said.
According to Panelo, the 19 deals were estimated at $12.165 billion, which will generate more than 21,000 jobs for Filipinos. Duterte previously met with the leaders of Philippine and Chinese business conglomerates in manufacturing, energy, steel, and infrastructure industries.
With the forging of the deals, the President gave assurances to prospective foreign investors that the Philippine government will create an “enabling environment that allows their business establishments and investments to prosper.”
Duterte also had a “productive and fruitful” separate bilateral meetings with top Chinese leaders where he affirmed the country’s commitment to friendship and understanding with China.
“He (Duterte) expressed the country’s readiness to pursue more high-quality and good-impact projects,” he said.
“President Duterte reiterated to President Xi his resolve to endeavor to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity,” Panelo continued, saying that Duterte stressed the need for both countries to “exercise restraint and caution to avoid actions that could complicate situations.”
“The President’s bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping likewise yielded a 1 billion renminbi grant to the Philippines,” he added.
According to an arrival statement released by the Palace, the Philippines and China both “renewed their commitment to bolster bilateral relations based on mutual trust, respect, and friendship.”
“They agreed to further deepen Philippines-China strategic cooperation, particularly in the areas of security, trade, and investment to support common development goals, including the administration’s Build, Build, Build program,” it read.
“In both meetings, the Philippines and China agreed to continue working closely to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea and address differences through consultation,” it continued.
The Philippines and China even expressed optimism for an early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will be a vital instrument for the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region, it added.
At the High-Level Meeting Session 1 of the forum, Duterte highlighted the contribution of migrant workers to the development of home and host countries, advocating for their protection and welfare and pitching for development assistance based on the reciprocal benefits.
In an arrival statement released by the Palace, the President pushed for a new model of international cooperation, stressed that development assistance should not foster dependence but build the capacities of developing nations.