In order for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to duplicate the “strong response” of Russia and effectively protect the country’s territory from encroaching foreign ships, its sea and aerial capability should be beefed up, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Thursday.
Earlier reports said that Russia detained 36 Chinese fishermen and seized their two ships for reportedly entering its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the far eastern Primorsky region.
The Russian coast guard fired warning shots and opened targeted fire to stop one of the ships, a trawler that had been fishing for squid. No one was reported killed or wounded during the incident.
Santiago admitted that the PCG’s present state would not enable it to appropriately respond to foreign ships, such as China’s, that enter the country’s EEZ.
“We could not drive them away. We do not have a superior coast guard vessel to do that. We cannot do this alone… That is why our allies in the developed states should extend help to us by giving us airplanes, long-range surveillance aircraft so that even from a far distance we could already monitor if there are ships approaching,” Santiago said.
There are reportedly countries that are interested to acquire a status of visiting forces agreement (SOVFA) with the Philippines but Santiago cautioned, “They have to prove their sincerity to us (first).”
For instance, Australia should demonstrate its concern and give the Philippines equipment that could be used by the PCG before the Senate votes on the SOVFA, Santiago said.
She added conditions set in the treaty must also be examined thoroughly.
Meanwhile, President Aquino said that the government is “preparing for contingencies” in case the tension escalates, although he expressed confidence that China would avoid building up militarily.
“We don’t think that is a likely possibility at this point. We will always endeavor to de-escalate and pursue that option of talking about this dispute and resolving it peacefully,” Aquino said in an interview with ANC.
Aquino believes that the Philippines has been bending over backwards to maintain peace in the West Philippine Sea and that “we have not engaged in a media war.”
“We’ve tried to be as reasonable as possible. We try to look at it from their perspective. We’re waiting for appropriate response from their side,” he said.
The President reiterated that the Philippine Navy ship was pulled out from Panatag Shoal after the Philippine Coast vessel arrived to show that the incident was being dealt with from a civilian perspective.
Despite the military’s limited capability, the Department of National Defense (DND) is prepared to secure the country’s territory.
“As long as it’s within our capability we will be enforcing what we could in support of course with our coast guard,” DND spokesman Peter Galvez said in a chance interview.
“The department will always be ready to support all other agencies in enforcing these laws and the integrity of our country,” he added.
Galvez stressed, however, that they would continue with the diplomatic approach to resolve the issue.
“We continue to believe that at the moment, peaceful means would still be achieved and as we have said earlier, the use of force is not the solution,” he noted.