Press Release
February 15, 2021

Hontiveros responds to Lorenzana: Now is the time for firmness; China's tactics in disputed areas are the real danger to peace in the Indo-Pacific

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on Department of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to stand up for the country's interests in the West Philippine Sea and renewed her call for a clear, consistent, and firm national policy for meeting the challenge of Chinese aggression in the disputed waters.

This statement came after Lorenzana downplayed the risks posed by China's Coast Guard Law — which authorizes the use of force against foreign vessels within disputed areas claimed by Beijing — by encouraging FIlipino fishermen to continue fishing in their traditional fishing grounds. However, in another statement, he said that the Philippines will not be joining naval drills in the South China Sea with other countries in the region for fear of antagonizing China. Lorenzana said that "China is watching," and that "a lot of things could be done to us by the Chinese government if they are antagonized."

"With all due respect, Sec. Lorenzana, now is the time for firmness. China's aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea, and not our joining joint exercises with our allies and other friendly nations, is the real threat to peace and stability in the region. It is also a clear and present danger to vital national interests in the contested areas. Why are we so considerate about antagonizing China when China seems intent on antagonizing us every day?" Hontiveros said.

"I have always respected Sec. Lorenzana as an officer and a gentleman, but his flip-flopping and indecisiveness will only lead China to think that we are a weak nation. We also cannot stand up to China alone. But how are we going to work together with our allies when we don't even want to be seen with them when China is looking? This is the sort of policy that is very unlikely to inspire confidence in the Philippines as a partner nation. Hindi tayo pagkakatiwalaan," she added.

Hontiveros also said that we must emulate neighboring nations that have been firm and consistent with their policies by clearly rejecting Beijing's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam, for instance, has repeatedly condemned China's military drills in the Paracel Islands, and has joined naval exercises in the South China Sea. Indonesia has also made it known to the UN that while it is not party to disputes in the South China Sea, it maintains that China's claim "clearly lacks international legal basis."

The senator then emphasized that Lorenzana's vacillating position was not the first time top officials gave out mixed signals in connection with the issue: Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also downplayed the impact of the law by saying that our fisher folk were already protected by the provisions of the UNCLOS, an international agreement that China has already stated does not apply to conflicting claims within the South China Sea.

"Consistency is a virtue. Tama na ang atras abante. Our top officials, especially those directly in charge of national defense, need to provide clear and consistent directives to not only guide our navy, air force, and coast guard, but also to reassure our people as well that their interests are being protected. We have bent over backwards for China long enough," she said.

"Dapat makipagtulungan na tayo sa mga karatig bansa. We must show other countries in the region, particularly our allies, that we are willing to work with them, and that we will not withdraw in the face of aggression," Hontiveros concluded.

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