Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte barred the Philippine troops from participating in holding naval exercises in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana said in a press briefing Monday that Duterte’s order aims to ease the tension escalation in the region.
“President Duterte has a standing order to us, to me that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except our national waters, the 12-mile distance from our shores,” Lorenzana said.
“We cannot exercise with them in the South China Sea… definitely if one country’s action is considered as belligerent by another, tension will normally rise so I hope that all the parties in this exercise will work on their actions there, to exercise prudence and carefulness so that there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension,” he explained.
According to Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Duterte’s decision was in line with the government’s independent foreign policy.
“Dati na pong polisiya ng Presidente’ yan. Sa kanyang independyenteng panlabas na relasyon, kaibigan natin ang lahat, wala tayong kaaway,” Roque said in a televised briefing on Tuesday.
(It was the President’s policy. In his independent external relations, we are all friends; we have no enemies.)
“Ang sabi lang ng Presidente, kung ang ilang mga gawain ng mga superpowers ngayon ay magre-resulta sa mas matinding tensyon [ay] iwas tayo sa mga ganyang hakbang.”
(The President simply said that if some of the actions of today’s superpowers lead to more intense tension, we will avoid such measures.)
The DFA chief also said Duterte is not being a defeatist but just being “pragmatic and realistic” when dealing with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana further noted that the President is not neglecting the Philippines’ substantial territorial rights over the region.
Duterte, during his fifth State fo the Nation Address (SONA), said the country could not afford to go on war against China.
“We have to go to war. And I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. Inutil ako diyan. Talagang inutil ako diyan. Walang magawa [I’m useless when it comes to that. Really, I’m useless to that. I can’t do anything]. I cannot,” the President said.
“China is claiming it; we are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it. So, it’s as simple as that. They are in possession of the property…so what can we do?” he added.