Esperon: Duterte said China ‘in position’ in West Philippine Sea, not ‘in possession’

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday sought to clarify President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks that China is “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea, saying the commander-in-chief actually said Beijing is “in position” in the disputed waters.

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.  

But in his fourth State of the Nation Address, Duterte struck a defeatist tone and conceded that the Asian power is already “in possession” of the strategic waterway.

At a press conference after Duterte’s SONA, Esperon denied that the president said that Beijing now owns the West Philippine Sea.

“I think the president said— did not say that they’re in possession. But they are in position,” Esperon said.

“Admittedly, China has built up islands in the West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea starting from 2012 to 2016 and up to now. But the construction of islands themselves was completed as of 2016. So they are in position,” he added.

“They have the positional advantage right now and they have the equipment to enforce their position... Our response is also to strengthen our positions,” he continued.

Duterte has frustrated nationalists after he shelved the Philippines’ legal victory against China’s sweeping claims in the resource-rich waters in exchange for warmer ties and economic largesse.

Based on the official transcript of the president’s fourth SONA released by Malacañang, Duterte said:

“You know, I cannot go there even to bring the Coast Guard to drive them away. China also claims the property and he is in possession. ‘Yan ang problema (That’s the problem). Sila ‘yung (They are) in possession and claiming all the resources there as an owner.”

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday countered this claim by Duterte, arguing that China only occupied seven features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal — covering less than 7% of the entire West Philippine Sea.

In the same post-SONA press briefing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he thinks Duterte was referring to Scarborough Shoal — which China seized following a heated standoff in 2012.

“That area is fishing ground for a lot of people coming from the neighborhood so naka-posisiyon sila doon a islands nila, but they are not in possession of West Philippine Sea because we are also claiming it,” Lorenzana said.

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SONA 2019


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