Senators continued to push for a multilateral approach as well as invoking of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US to prevent similar incidents or possible escalation of tensions in the South China Sea.
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Threat of war with China exaggerated — senators
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte may be exaggerating the threat of war with China in justifying what is widely seen as the administration’s subservient or weak stance in responding to the Recto Bank incident, several senators said yesterday.

Senators continued to push for a multilateral approach as well as invoking of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US to prevent similar incidents or possible escalation of tensions in the South China Sea.

“I don’t think involving the US would be tempting war with China. A multilateral diplomatic approach is good for the Philippines,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson maintained the US and other Western powers should come into play to check on China even if it is contrary to the administration’s policy.

“On the Mutual Defense Treaty, while my opinion is different from the President’s, it doesn’t matter much which one is right or wrong; it is who is making the decision which, in this case, obviously, he is the one,” Lacson said in a statement.

He said it was good Duterte corrected himself by saying that he cannot prevent incursions of foreign fishing vessels within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Lacson stressed that even if the President wants to stop incursions in the EEZ, the country does not have the capability do to so, and the 2016 arbitral ruling is unenforceable in the first place.

Calling on the US and other western allies to help check China’s aggression is proper given the prevailing circumstances, “contrary to some narrow-minded critics that such move is a sure formula for war,” Lacson said.

He stressed maintaining the balance of power in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea will prevent rather than ignite war.

“Why? No two superpowers would go to war in this day and age of nuclear technology for the simple reason of its ‘zero-sum’ outcome,” Lacson said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan described Duterte’s talk of war with China as unfounded.

He pointed out Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all have asserted sovereignty in the disputed waters repeatedly and yet no war has been declared by any of these countries.

“To say that asserting our legitimate claim over our exclusive economic zone will lead to war is meant to justify our subservience and docility. This is unacceptable. Fishermen in Indonesia and Malaysia are fortunate as their governments fight for them,” Pangilinan said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana took exception to Lacson’s statements invoking the MDT in the row with China.

Lorenzana supported the President’s decision, saying that invoking the MDT is not proper.

“The President is correct that it is not necessary or even appropriate because this is a minor sea accident,” he said.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad also supported the President’s view that the June 9 incident involving the Chinese vessel ramming the boat of the 22 Filipino fishermen off Recto Bank was a minor incident.

“It is perfectly right when the President said it is a minor incident. Major incident involves bigger ships,” Empedrad said.

On the Chinese leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen floundering at sea, Empedrad said the matter is now being investigated.

If later on it is proven that the Chinese indeed failed to rescue the fishermen, sanctions be will done based on international laws, he said.

Since the Navy is not involved in the probe, Empedrad said he is not in the position to know how and when the investigation of the incident will conclude.

He said the Navy has the mandate to apprehend any fishing trawler using dynamite fishing and other illegal activities in the EEZ.

“We in the Navy only prepare ships to be deployed in the area. But I think regardless of whoever these fishing vessels are, we will apprehend them if they do illegal fishing like dynamite fishing,” he said.  –  With Jaime Laude

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