Philippine President Benigno Aquino refused to budge yesterday on a territorial dispute with China, asking Beijing to respect Manila’s rights in the South China Sea and announcing plans to upgrade military capabilities.
Addressing a joint session of the Philippine Congress for the third time since his election in 2010, Aquino asked Filipinos to unite behind his government’s efforts to resolve the dispute peacefully.
“If someone enters your yard and told you he owns it, will you allow that? It’s not right to give away what is rightfully ours,” he said. “And so I ask for solidarity from our people regarding this issue. Let us speak with one voice.”
Aquino said his country is consulting experts, allies and China to find a solution that will be accepted by all parties. But even as it seeks a peaceful solution, the Philippines plans to spend 75 billion pesos (S$2.25 billion) in the next five years to upgrade its defence systems and expects to receive 10 attack helicopters, two naval helicopters, two aircraft and a frigate next year, Aquino said.
Washington has also provided $30 million (S$37.8 million) to strengthen the Philippine military aside from help in establishing a national coast watch centre that would help protect the archipelago’s 36,000-km coastline.
“This is not about picking a fight. This is not about bullying. This is about attaining peace. This is about our capability to defend ourselves,” Aquino said.
Philippine defence and military officials say they are worried by China’s “creeping imposition” of its claims in disputed areas in the South China Sea, a violation of an informal code of conduct adopted in Cambodia in 2002.
The South China Sea has become Asia’s biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing’s sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines, as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves believed to lie under the seabed.
Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have claims on parts of the sea. The row was a central issue at a South-east Asian regional summit earlier this month that ended with members failing to agree on a concluding statement for the first time in 45 years.
Meanwhile, 6,000 police officers were deployed yesterday to secure the House of Representatives, where Aquino spoke, and nearby roads.
Several people were injured when riot police clashed with thousands of left-wing and trade union protesters, who were seeking higher wages, land reform and a stop to alleged human rights violations.