PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday vowed to protect the country’s sovereignty during an Independence Day address, but appealed to the public for understanding for his government’s non-aggressive stand in dealing with territorial disputes.
“We need to weigh our decisions carefully when it comes to these matters. As we stand for our rights, we must continue exhibiting the values Filipinos are known for: aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge,” Mr. Aquino said during the flag raising ceremony at the Liwasang Bonifacio to mark the 115th anniversary of Philippine independence.
“And while we will protect our rights and continue to build consensus with all parties to promote calm and understanding, we must also increase the capabilities of our Armed Forces. Together with all these, we must also think of the lives of the millions of Filipinos that may be affected by the decisions we make as leaders,” the President said.
Mr. Aquino has come under fire for not responding to Chinese intrusions in the Panatag Shoal and in Ayungin Reef, while militant leftist groups have skewered him for relying on the Americans to protect Philippine interests.
Beijing’s near-permanent presence in the areas that are well-within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines has already deprived several Filipino fishermen of their livelihood.
“We have no other desire than to take care of what is rightfully ours. We have never trampled upon the rights of others. We have not claimed or demanded territory that clearly belongs to another,” Aquino said.
“If there has been disagreement, the whole world has witnessed our willingness to sit down and conduct dialogues in a peaceful manner. The only thing we have asked is that our territory, rights, and dignity be respected, in the same way that we have respected the territory, rights, and dignity of other peoples,” he added.
The Philippines has already filed several diplomatic protests and has sought arbitration before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China, however, has refused to acknowledge the protests and the UNCLOS case.
Even if China did not agree to the arbitration case, the UNCLOS tribunal can still proceed with an ex-parte trial and make a binding decision, but observers – including Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, said the action is useless because no body would be able to enforce its decision.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on Wednesday called on soldiers during the commemoration of Independence Day to remain united in the face of growing challenges posed by internal and external threats.
“We, the men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, pledge anew our commitment to the Filipino nation. With honor and pride, we vow to fulfill our duties as the protectors and defenders of the Philippine sovereignty and integrity,” Bautista said.
The Armed Forces, he said, was ready to respond to internal threats from the communist rebels and external threats from countries that had conflicting claims on Philippine territory such as China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Despite Bautista’s words of encouragement, military officials have admitted on several occasions that they are helpless to stop the Chinese from coming and going in the disputed areas of the South China Sea. With Florante S. Solmerin