Instead of removing the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, why not refurbish and reinforce it?
Sen. Panfilo "Ping" M. Lacson stressed this Thursday as he rejected the call of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that the Philippines "honor its commitment" and remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the area.
"I don’t think there was an agreement. I could not imagine the Philippine government, much less the Department of Foreign Affairs, na papasok sa kasunduan na tatanggalin natin ang BRP Sierra Madre. [Walang lupa ang Ayungin, pero sa atin yan napakaliwanag] (I don't think there was an agreement. I could not imagine the Philippine government, much less our Department of Foreign Affairs, entering into an agreement that would involve the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre. Ayungin may not have a land mass but it is clear that it is ours)," Lacson said at the weekly LACSON-SOTTO Meet the Press forum.
Also, he said the BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded vessel serving as an outpost of the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea, should be refurbished and reinforced.
"Dapat huwag natin bayaang iusog... Kung kakayanin lagay tayo ng isang barko doon na functioning (We should not allow it to be moved. And if possible, we should even reinforce it with another vessel that is functioning)," he said.
Lacson said this is not the first time China is intruding into the Philippines' territory and exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
As early as 1995, he said China occupied Panganiban (Mischief) Reef. This was followed by a standoff at Panatag Shoal in 2012. Lacson noted Panatag Shoal is 118.79 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine coastline, well within 200 nautical miles and way closer compared to China.
Despite China violating a gentleman's agreement brokered by the United States, the Philippines won an arbitral victory in 2016 when the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China had no right over the area. Yet, China still dared lay claim over the area, which is 105 nautical miles off Palawan.
Meanwhile, Lacson said he is drafting a Senate resolution to express the Sense of the Senate to condemn the recent actions taken by China in the West Philippine Sea.
He also asked to be a co-author of Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III's Senate Bill 2289, "An Act Declaring the Maritime Zones under the Jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines." Sotto expressed his conformity to the move.
Under the bill, the Philippines could exercise sovereignty over its internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea, and the airspace over it as well as its seabed and subsoil in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other existing laws and treaties.
The bill "provides for the needed flexibility in the passage of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations to which the Philippines is entitled and may exercise over its maritime zones."
"Kailangan may municipal law para klaro, parang nine-dash line na sinasabi ng China, para ma-reinforce ang ating sinasabing pag-aari sa WPS (We need a municipal law similar to China's nine-dash line, to reinforce our rights in the WPS)," Lacson said.
Lacson also reiterated his stance to maintain a balance of power in the region while the Philippines works to attain a minimum credible defense posture.
He said this entails accelerating the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but the Philippines is spending less than one percent of its budget for this while its neighbors spend more than two percent of their budgets for the purpose.
On the other hand, Lacson said that while the Philippines should still maintain trade relations with China, it should continue to assert its sovereignty and sovereign rights over the exclusive economic zone.
"Mas maganda trade relations with China maintain natin pero assert natin ang sovereignty and sovereign rights over the EEZ at ang ibang sovereignty natin ang nakataya (It is better to maintain trade relations with China but assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights over the EEZ)," he said.