Defense chief Lorenzana points to “bullying” of China in take over of Scarborough Shoal

(File photo) Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana speaks during a meeting with US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on April 1, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)


(Eagle News) – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana branded as “bullying” China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea, particularly how it took over the Scarborough Shoal also known as Panatag Shoal.

Lorenzana said that unless China matched its rhetoric with action, most people will continue to have low trust on the Asian giant.

“The way they took over Scarborough Shoal, to me, that is bullying,” Lorenzana said on Tuesday.

“The Chinese, since they started grabbing islands there and bullying people around, s’yempre nagdududa ‘yong mga tao (of course, people will be doubting),” he said.

The defense chief said this when asked by reporters for his reaction on remarks made the other day by Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua that China is following international laws and would want peaceful settlement of disputes.

Lorenzana earlier recalled that he had also told the Chinese ambassador previously of how their warships had entered Philippine territorial waters without notifying the Philippine government, particularly at the Sibutu Strait near Tawi-Tawi.

He had asked Ambassador Zhao about this during President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22.

He was assured then by the ambassador that this would not happen again.  Zhao denied that the Chinese aircraft carrier Lioaning had entered Philippine waters, but admitted that four smaller warships from the People’s Liberation Army-Navy had passed by since February.

Lorenzana said that Ambassador Zhao’s statements that China wants peace in the South China Sea and the ASEAN region was nothing new, as he had also heard this before from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself when they met him in China during President Duterte’s visit there in 2016.

“I have heard that version of those speech many times already. I heard that from the mouth of Xi Jinping when we met him with the President, first time we met in 2016,” he said.

“I heard it from the mouth of other ministers, and then again [at the] last Shangri-La Dialogue, I heard that again from their Minister of Defense. So nothing new from what they are saying,” he said.

Lorenzana said that China’s actions on the ground does not match what Zhao and other Chinese officials are saying.

“I’ve heard the version of the speech many times already… There’s nothing new with that. They are saying they want peace, but it does not match with what they are doing on the ground,” he said.

The defense secretary surmised that Ambassador Zhao was saying these just to “keep us calm.”

“It’s good to be heard just to keep us siguro calm,” he said.

Lorenzana, however, observed that China did not do any more reclamation activities since the start of the Duterte administration.

-Freedom of navigation and overflight-

China’s ambassador to the Philippines on Monday, July 29, said that his country is committed to maintain peace and stability in the region.

He said that China would also want to maintain freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and would want to finalize the Code of Conduct while the Philippines is still the country coordinator of the China-Asean dialogue.

“So we would like to work not only with the Philippines, with other Asean countries, also with other powers outside this region, it is in our common interest to make sure that South China Sea continue to enjoy relative peace and stability and with freedom of navigation and overflight unchanged and uninterrupted. Particularly for the commercial vessels and for their oil tankers,” Ambassador Zhao said.

-Scarborough Shoal standoff-

The Scarborough Shoal standoff referred to tensions between China and the Philippines which began on April 8, 2012 over the Philippine Navy apprehension of eight mainland Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

China then sent its ships in the area to invade the shoal, and it took over administration of the disputed islands after a Philippine ship pulled out of the island after an alleged agreement brokered by the United States.

Under the deal, both China and the Philippines were supposed to pull off their ships.

“During the impasse at Scarborough Shoal with China in 2012, we were approached by the US, an honest broker for both China and the Philippines, to agree to a simultaneous withdrawal of ships from the shoal. China had over 30 ships while the Philippines had a total of one ship,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in an earlier statement.

“We ultimately agreed to the US proposal. At the appointed time, we withdrew, whereas China — acting with duplicity — did not. When confronted with the nonwithdrawal of their ships, Beijing’s response was a denial of the existence of such an agreement,” he said.

Reacting to this, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that it was “naïveté” on the part of Del Rosario to pull out the lone Philippine ship in the area and trust that China would keep its word.

“Even if there was such brokering, Mr. del Rosario’s ordering the withdrawal of Philippine vessel or vessels without the knowledge and consent of former President Aquino demonstrated his inexperience and naïveté in the art of psychological warfare,” he added.

Del Rosario had claimed that the US brokered talks to end the standoff by asking the two countries to pull out their vessels from the area.

But former President Benigno Aquino III himself, in an interview, said that he knew about the decision to pull out.

It was on June 15, 2012, Philippines withdrew its two vessels, but China did not.

Aquino said that this eventually led the Philippines to file an arbitration case before the Hague against China in January 2013.

China, however, did not participate in the arbitration case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration and refused to recognize its ruling when it came out in July 2016.