By Macon Araneta

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on February 15 called on Department of Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana to stand up for the country’s interests in the West Philippine Sea.

She also renewed her call for a clear, consistent, and firm national policy for meeting the challenge of Chinese aggression on the disputed waters.

Earlier, Lorenzana downplayed the risks posed by China’s Coast Guard Law — which authorizes the use of force against foreign vessels within disputed areas claimed by Beijing — by encouraging Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in their traditional fishing grounds.

However, Lorenzana said in another statement the Philippines will not be joining naval drills in the South China Sea with other countries in the region for fear of antagonizing China.

Lorenzana said “China is watching” and that “a lot of things could be done to us by the Chinese government if they are antagonized.”

“With all due respect, Sec. Lorenzana, now is the time for firmness,” emphasized the opposition Senator.

“Why are we so considerate about antagonizing China when China seems intent on antagonizing us every day?” Hontiveros asked.

“I have always respected Sec. Lorenzana as an officer and a gentleman but his flip-flopping and indecisiveness will only lead China to think that we are a weak nation,” she said.

“We also cannot stand up to China alone. But how are we going to work together with our allies when we don’t even want to be seen with them when China is looking? This is the sort of policy that is very unlikely to inspire confidence in the Philippines as a partner nation. Hindi tayo pagkakatiwalaan,” she added.

Hontiveros cited neighboring nations that have been firm and consistent with their policies by clearly rejecting Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

Vietnam, for instance, she said, has repeatedly condemned China’s military drills in the Paracel Islands, and has joined naval exercises in the South China Sea. Indonesia has also made it known to the UN that while it is not party to disputes in the South China Sea, it maintains that China’s claim “clearly lacks international legal basis.” 

The Senator then stressed  that Lorenzana’s vacillating position was not the first time top officials gave out mixed signals.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also downplayed the impact of the law by saying that Filipino fisher folk are already protected by the provisions of the UNCLOS, an international agreement that China has already stated does not apply to conflicting claims within the South China Sea,” she said.

“Consistency is a virtue.  Backtracking should be stopped. Our top officials, especially those directly in charge of national defense, need to provide clear and consistent directives to not only guide our navy, air force, and coast guard but also to reassure our people that their interests are being protected. We have bent over backwards for China long enough,” she said. 

“We should be coordinating and helping our neighboring countries. We must show other countries in the region, particularly our allies, that we are willing to work with them, and that we will not withdraw in the face of aggression,” Hontiveros added.