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Lorenzana admits China, Vietnam's presence still evident in West Philippine Sea

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Sunday said several Chinese and Vietnamese fisherfolk and coast guards are still going around the West Philippine Sea, but could not be driven out by the Philippine government out of fear of war.

“Andiyan ang mga Tsina, meron silang mga isla na ginawa nila. Pero andiyan din ang mga Vietnamese. Tatlo tayong nagke-claim sa ibang portion naman ng West Philippine Sea. Palaging nakikita natin ang mga barko ng Tsina nangingisda o mga Coast Guard nila nagpa-patrol, pero hindi naman nila tayo ginugulo,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a Super Radyo dzBB interview.

(The Chinese, who have built islands in the West Philippine Sea, are still there, along with the Vietnamese. Three of us are claiming other parts of the WPS. We could always see Chinese vessels fishing or the Chinese Coast Guard patrolling, but they are not bothering us.)

It could be recalled that the China Coast Guard blocked and used a water cannon on two Philippine supply boats on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal in November 2021.

That same month, China also demanded that the Philippines remove the grounded Philippine vessel BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal a day after Filipino boats reached the grounded Navy ship to complete their resupply mission.

While such a dispute is still unresolved, Lorenzana maintained that there was “no movement” coming from any territory over the waters under the Duterte administration.

“As far as I’m concerned, tahimik ang West Philippine Sea kasi nga nagkakasundo naman ‘yung mga nandyan. Sa tingin ko naman, hindi naman nating puwedeng itaboy ‘yung mga Tsina at Vietnam diyan at baka magkaka-giyera tayo, ge-giyerahin nila tayo. ‘Yan ang ating inaalala at iniiwasan,” he added.

(As far as I’m concerned, it's quiet in the West Philippine Sea because the people there are getting along. I don't think we can drive the Chinese and Vietnamese out of there because it may result in war or they will go to war against us. That’s what we worry about and want to avoid.)

The Philippine government sued China before an international arbitral tribunal in The Hague in 2013. It ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016 when it junked China's nine-dash claim over the South China Sea.

China however rejected the Philippines' call to comply with the 2016 arbitration ruling, calling the decision "illegal and invalid.”

In April 2021, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte said nothing would happen even if he sailed to the WPS "because we are not in the possession of the sea."

Meanwhile, President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on Thursday said his administration would defend the country's sovereignty by talking to China "with a firm voice."

Marcos, however, said the Philippines need not go to war with China to assert its claim over the vast West Philippine Sea. —KG, GMA News