By Daniel Llanto          

The commanding general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) called for “political will” instead of fighter jets to protect the Philippine’s rights in the West Philippine Sea against China in an apparent dig at President Duterte’s continued tolerance of China’s aggression in the disputed seas.

Lt. Gen, Antonio Parlade Jr., AFP-Solcom commander, said political will, not “floating vessels” nor “fighter jets”, is the primary capability the Philippines needs to protect its rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The government needs to show it is “serious in protecting its rights” in the West Philippine Sea for other nations to respect Manila’s claim in the disputed area, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. told the Commission on Appointments.

Parlade told the Commission on Appointments (CA), which assessed his fitness for the job, that government needs to show it is “serious in protecting its rights” in the West Philippine Sea for other nations to respect Manila’s claim in the disputed area.

The General faced the CA as China accused Manila of “illegal provocations” in the area after the AFP dispatched fighter jets to discourage the reported Chinese coast guard practice of confiscating Filipino fishermen’s catch.

The Philippines has protested what it called the “illegal confiscation” of Filipino fishermen’s equipment by the Chinese coast guard at Scarborough Shoal off the Zambales province.

The Chinese foreign ministry responded by accusing the Philippines of violating China’s sovereignty and security by sending a military aircraft into an airspace adjacent to Spratly Islands, which Beijing calls Nansha Islands.

China has also asked the Philippines to “immediately stop illegal provocations” and insisted that its actions in Panatag Shoal are lawful.

Parlade said: “The first capability that we need is the wherewithal to send the message that this government is serious in protecting its rights.”

Malacañang for its part said the military’s movements in the West Philippine Sea are in line with the Philippines’ sovereign rights. .

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the military supply missions in Kalayaan, a fifth class town in the Spratlys and the over-flight patrols in the Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc would continue.

“Well, perhaps that’s the opinion of China. We will continue bringing supplies to Kalayaan and we will continue to have over-flights in Bajo de Masinloc and we maintain also that it’s part of our sovereignty or our sovereign rights,” Roque said at a press briefing.

“The President has been consistent. He will not give even an inch of our national territory or sovereign rights to any other state,” the Palace spokesman said.

“But (the government has also been consistent with its policy that) the unresolved issue about territory should not be a hindrance to pursue our diplomatic bilateral relations with China. We can pursue the things we can pursue like trade and investments,” he added.

At the CA, Parlade said they would abide with whatever the President, “our commander- in-chief tells us but we are not saying that we are foregoing the ruling of the arbitral tribunal.”

He said the responsibility to protect the Philippines’ interests in the West Philippine Sea should not be solely given to the military. He added that the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Philippine Coast Guard should “really integrate” efforts in defending the country’s claim in the disputed waters. .

“It is not really about capabilities. It is our resolve… our political will to make sure that those interest are protected,” Parlade added.