A tough stance against bullying in the West Philippine Sea, anchored on maintaining the balance of power in the area, will be prioritized under a Lacson presidency, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" M. Lacson said Monday.
Lacson said that while the Philippines should maintain trade relations with countries like China, it cannot sacrifice its sovereignty and sovereign rights for this.
"Tinuturing nating kaibigan ang China pero ang turing ba nila sa atin kaibigan? Dapat equal footing, hindi one way (We treat China as a friend, but does China treat us that way? Friendship should be on equal footing, not one-way)," he said in an interview on Radyo 5.
"Meron tayong sovereign rights sa EEZ natin kaya dapat i-assure natin na lahat ng nations that freedom of navigation will be observed and upheld. Ang China wala sa kanila ang freedom of navigation (We have sovereign rights on our exclusive economic zone, we can assure all nations that we will observe and uphold that freedom of navigation, something China does not do)," he added.
When asked if he will treat the West Philippine Sea situation as a priority issue if he wins the 2022 presidential race, Lacson said he has always done so.
"Maski di pa ako kandidato, ito ang gusto ko mangyari, ma-enhance ang ating alliance hindi lang sa US kundi sa ibang (Even when I was not yet a candidate, I had always pushed for enhancing our alliances with our allies including the US, to maintain the balance of power)," he said.
"Records will bear this out: Maski di pa ako kandidato, ito ang gusto ko mangyari, ma-enhance ang ating alliance hindi lang sa US kundi sa ibang (Records will bear this out: Even when I was not yet a candidate, I had always pushed for enhancing our alliances with our allies including the US, to maintain the balance of power)," he said.
He said the balance of power would discourage countries like China from making incursions and from bullying smaller nations' ships in the area.
Lacson cited information reaching him that China once "challenged" a US warship passing in the area. When the US vessel's captain invoked the right of innocent passage, the Chinese vessel did not even block or attack the vessel with water cannons like it did two Philippine vessels headed for Ayungin Shoal last Nov. 16.
"Doon natin nakikita na pag may balance of power sa WPS, hindi talaga magkakagiyera at mapapangalagaan natin ang ating sovereign rights and territorial integrity (From this episode, we see that if there is balance of power in the WPS, there would be no war and we can maintain our sovereign rights and territorial integrity)," Lacson said.
Meanwhile, Lacson said the timing is now right to revisit the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty, after the US expressed willingness to enhance efforts toward an international law-based maritime order, including freedom of navigation.
Lacson also reiterated he is not favoring the US or any other country, stressing that the Philippines' foreign policy is always anchored on national interest.
"Malinaw sa West Philippine Sea, ang national interest natin ma-exercise ang sovereign rights within the EEZ at sovereignty natin within 12 nautical miles (It is clear that in the West Philippine Sea, our national interest dictates that we exercise our sovereign rights within the EEZ and sovereignty within 12 nautical miles)," he said.
Lacson, who is running for President under Partido Reporma, has long pushed for a balance of power in the West Philippine Sea, with the Philippines strengthening its ties with its allies that are militarily strong and have an interest in maintaining the balance of power as they value the freedom of navigation in the area.