In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana attends a Senate inquiry.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File
Lorenzana sees 'lower tension' in West Philippine Sea until Duterte ends term
( - January 18, 2019 - 11:33am

MANILA, Philippines — Tension between the Philippines and China on the West Philippine Sea would be lower in the final half of President Rodrigo Duterte's term, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

"I think there will be lower tension. I think everybody understands already what's the role there, we already talked," Lorenzana said in an interview with Winnie Monsod over GMA News TV's "Bawal ang Pasaway" earlier this week.

Beijing had installed weapons and jamming equipment on its artificial islands in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

The Duterte administration has been holding a bilateral consultation mechanism with China instead of invoking a July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

Lorenzana said he was satisfied with the situation in the area as China has not claimed new territories during the term of Duterte.

"Considering everything I think I'm happy with that... What we can achieve is to lower the tension there. No misunderstanding, no miscalculations between troops so there would be no trouble," the Defense chief said.

Pag-asa Island repairs

The Philippine military is expected to finish building a beaching ramp on Pag-asa Islands, one of the largest features in the Spratlys, on the first quarter of this year.

The beaching ramp would allow government troops to bring in materials for the repair of the dilapidated dirt runway on the island.

"We have a dirt runway there. It could only be used after five days of sunshine because it has to be hard so the navy is now repairing the beaching ramp," Lorenzana said.

The Defense secretary also recalled how Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua tried to block his attempt to visit the island way back in April 2017.

Lorenzana had earlier revealed that Zhao also attempted to stop the government's plan to repair structures on Pag-asa Island.

"He told me there has not been any sitting Secretary of Defense who went there. I will be the first one, I told him. I'm just hoing to visit our troops and our people," the secretary said.

Beijing complained Lorenzana's visit to the island and even challenged their plane as they approached the area, which the secretary considered a normal occurrence.

"When we were approaching (they said) 'Philippine aircraft you are flying over Chinese territory' which our polits will reply, 'No, we are flying in the Philippine territory,'" he said.

In a Senate hearing earlier this week, Lorenzana admitted that the presence of Chinese military bases in the West Philippine Sea has changed the equation in the country's military secruity.

Through the equipment on their artificial islands, China can intercept the Armed Forces of the Philippines' radio frequencies and can fly to Manila at supersonic speed in minutes.

"It's very clear that they would like to have some hegemony or control over the... West Philippine Sea," Lorenzana told the Senate. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

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