DFA chief: Invest more on weaponry, 'stop throwing money at poverty'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 18) — The country’s top diplomat believes China’s strategy on the West Philippine Sea should prompt the government to invest more on weaponry instead of “throwing money at poverty.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. made this statement in response to a tweet from Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson who called his attention to a 2013 article which reads, “China boasts of strategy to ‘recover’ islands occupied by Philippines.”

“(Secretary of Foreign Affairs) Teddy Boy, a wide reader that you are, I just thought you might have skipped this one which shows the mindset of China on WPS. For whatever it is worth, I hope it will further enrich your perspective from the point of view of foreign policy,” Lacson said.

He was referring to the transcript of an interview with China’s then Major General Zhang Zhaozhong, who discussed Beijing’s “cabbage strategy” during the 2012 standoff with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal. Zhang recalled how the swarming of Chinese ships forced Filipino fishermen to leave and prevented any other ship from entering.

In response, Locsin said, “It is a Free World now after the CIA defeated the USSR. Every country can speak whatever is on its mind.”

He added that what China says “should not determine [the Philippines’] foreign policy but it should inform the national budgetary process that we gotta stop throwing money at poverty and throw it at weaponry.”

Lacson later responded that what China did in 2012 “is exactly how they are conducting maneuvers” in the West Philippine Sea now. He said he is reminded of “winning a thousand battles if you know yourself and your enemy” – from the words of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.

The Philippines and China recently exchanged arguments and asserted territorial claims over the swarming of over 200 Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island, one of the biggest islands in the Spratlys and seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan. Chinese ships were also reported found in Philippine-occupied Kota Island, also known as Loiata Island and nearby Panata Island or Lankiam Cay in the disputed Spratlys.

Locsin said he has "fired off (a) salvo of diplomatic notes" against China over the swarming of its vessels in Philippine waters. The Department of Foreign Affairs is also looking at filing a case against China over reports of Chinese fishermen harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal, on top of a diplomatic protest earlier filed.

China’s recent actions in contested waters has also prompted Malacañang to cite the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which recognized the country's sovereign rights in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. The government calls it West Philippine Sea and includes Pag-asa Island and the disputed areas in the Spratlys where the Chinese vessels were spotted.

Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte also "effectively" invoked the Hague ruling when he told China to “lay off” Pag-asa Island.

Earlier, Duterte refused to bring the arbitration ruling which China rejects, saying the Philippines could not go to war against the East Asian giant. Locsin earlier said he is personally not afraid of war since China “took [what] is ours.”