PH won’t join other navies in South China Sea drills on Duterte’s order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 4) — The Philippines will not participate in any joint military exercises with other countries in the South China Sea "except [in] our national waters," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, citing President Rodrigo Duterte’s order.

“How are we going to work with the United States or other countries as they go about conducting naval exercises in the South China Sea?” Lorenzana said in a media briefing on Monday.

“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 revealed. “So, we cannot do that, we cannot exercise with them in the South China Sea."

Lorenzana told CNN Philippines in a text message on Tuesday that this has been Duterte's order since 2016, when he assumed the presidency and pursued an independent foreign policy that was widely seen as a pivot to China.

The US Navy conducted two massive drills in the South China Sea in July, sending two aircraft carriers in a move condemned by China, which claims almost the entire global waterway. While the US does not claim any part of the South China Sea, it conducts freedom of navigation operations and calls most of Beijing’s claims as “unlawful.”

Lorenzana explained, “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 or exercise prudence and carefulness so that there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension,” he added.

The Duterte administration has been criticized for nurturing friendship with China despite the East Asian giant’s continued rejection of the Philippines’ arbitration win in 2016. An international tribunal in The Hague invalidated Beiing’s sweeping territorial stakes in the South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its exclusive economic zone which China claims.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address, Duterte maintained that he could not go to war with China over the dispute, even calling himself “inutile” in that aspect, and pushed for “diplomatic endeavors” instead. He did not elaborate.

Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic of the administration’s soft stance on the maritime dispute, again reminded the President that he does not need to resort to arms to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights, citing the examples set by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, which also have conflicting claims with China.