Esperon: PH will never give up claim to regain control of WPS

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) -- The Philippines does not share overlapping claims with China alone.

This was according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon when he spoke at an online briefing on Wednesday. Contrary to popular belief, Esperon said China does not have the most claims.

Esperon highlighted the claims of other countries in the contested waters: Vietnam controls 21 islands and reefs in the South China Sea, 14 of which are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone; Malaysia has five, Taiwan has one, while China controls seven -- most of which are artificial islands converted into military bases.

The Philippines, meanwhile occupies nine, including Pag-asa Island, the seat of the Kalayaan Island group. It is contesting all the other claims, calling the control of other nations illegal.

"We are not giving up on the EEZ because that has been granted to us by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea so we have sovereign rights over the waters," Esperon emphasized.

"Then we have our arbitral ruling which defined features, like Pag-asa now, as they say, has a 12 nautical mile entitlement," he also said. "We used to say it has an EEZ but now because of the arbitral ruling, it's a 12 nautical mile territorial sea that it has."

Esperon is backing President Rodrigo Duterte, who said retaking the West Philippine Sea -- especially areas occupied by China -- could mean bloody war that would be difficult for the Philippines to win.

"When the President says we can only retake the West Philippine Sea with force, then that is very correct. if you want to retake Mischief Reef, Fiery Cross and Subi, then you have to use force. And if you do that, then, it will be a shooting war...that's what he says. It will be bloody and I'm sure it will be very difficult to win a war," he said.

Critics have repeatedly said no one was asking the Duterte administration to go to war. They just him to assert the country's claims, they said.

Meanwhile, Esperon is also encouraging fishermen to fish at Bajo de Masinloc as there were Coast guard assets deployed in the area to protect them from foreign harassments or threats.

A statement released by the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said more assets will be deployed in the WPS.

"To augment the vessels and aircraft currently under the control of the ATFs, the Government has also deployed four Philippine Coast Guard vessels, one PCG aircraft, five Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels for WPS maritime patrols, and Philippine National Police - Maritime Group high speed tactical watercraft and rubber boats for maritime law enforcement in the coastal areas," the statement read.

Detachments in the area also continuously being developed.

"The NTF-WPS is resolute in upholding Philippine sovereignty over our territory as mandated by the Constitution and protecting our sovereign rights over our EEZ in accordance with international law.," it added.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent David Santos and senior digital producer Pia Garcia contributed to this report.