DEFIANCE of China to leave the West Philippine Sea drove the United States government to send more war ships off the South China Sea to maintain freedom of navigation at the disputed maritime region, says Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez, following the April 4 deployment of the US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) at the tension-gripped area.
“US’ freedom of navigation operations ay tuluy-tuloy yan. They’ve been increasing it in the past several months, precisely to protect the seaway there. Freedom of navigation means any vessel can pass through there without any harassment or any stop from any country,” Romualdez said in an early morning radio interview on Sunday.
The Department of National Defense (DND) has acknowledged the right of other states to freedom of navigation. Says its spokesperson Undersecretary Arsenio Andolong, adding that they allow such entry as long as they exercise restraint and avoid action that could lead to tension in the disputed area.
“We recognize the right of other States to freedom of navigation on the high seas so long as all parties exercise restraint and avoid actions that could provoke and exacerbate the already tense situation in the region,” he said.
The US vessel arrived at the South China Sea following reports of some 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation near the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
The Julian Felipe Reef, which China claims as part of its Nansha Islands, is located 175 nautical miles of Bataraza, Palawan.
Reiterating the US government’s support to the Philippines in the event that the situation escalates in the South China Sea, the US-based Filipino envoy said that the US has assured the Philippines of its “concern” and that they are willing to help us if we ask for it, and if China’s incursion worsens.
“In-assure tayo ng mga kaibigan natin dito na talagang concerned sila at sila ay handang tumulong sa atin kung humingi tayo ng tulong kung talagang mabigat na yung ginagawa ng [China].”
“I hope hindi natin [sila] kalaban pero sana huwag naman mangyari. itong mga Chinese vessels ay umalis na lang diyan sa ating teritoryo” (I hope China is not our foe and the situation does not escalate. I hope these Chinese vessels just leave our territory), he added.
Romualdez even said the US is ready to invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, if needed.
The MDT was signed by the Philippines and US in 1951 where both parties agreed that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either the Philippines or the US would be dangerous and that they would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.