‘Aggressive’ West PH Sea patrols tell China we’re not backing down – AFP Chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) — The Philippine military may be barred from joining naval drills in the South China Sea, but the new chief of staff said the country has increased presence in its territorial waters.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said Friday that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “temporary suspension” of the country’s participation in joint military exercises in contested waters “doesn’t mean we are backing down on our claim."

“We are patrolling aggressively and vigorously our territorial waters and really maintaining presence in the area, and this sends a signal not only to China but other claimant countries that we are still asserting and protecting our sovereignty in that part of the country,” Gapay told CNN Philippines.

Tuloy-tuloy ‘yan (That’s continuous). We do that everyday,” he added.

Gapay is referring to the West Philippine Sea, which includes areas Manila claims and occupies in the disputed South China Sea. China continues to reject the 2016 arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines which invalidated the East Asian giant's sweeping claims. The landmark decision recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights to areas within its exclusive economic zone which China claims.

But Duterte, who has nurtured friendship with China, agreed to shelve th arbitral ruling. He has repeatedly said he could not go to war against China and pushed for “diplomatic endeavors” instead.

The AFP fully supports its commander-in-chief. 

“We uphold the diplomatic track and of course the rules-based approach in dealing with the West Philippine Sea issue,” Gapay said.

While the AFP will not resort to arms in line with national policy, it has improved its external defense capability through its modernization program, Gapay said.

The country has procured frigates and now boasts of a “blue-water navy” capable of sustained operations across deep seas, he added.

Critics have called out Duterte's defeatist stance on the maritime dispute, saying he does not have to wage a war to assert the country's sovereign rights.

However, the administration has rejected calls to raise the arbitral ruling in the United Nations General Assembly in September, saying the Philippines and China have "agreed to disagree" to pursue "friendly consultation."