Benigno Aquino III vows to protect Philippines at all times
President Benigno Aquino III is vowing that the government will protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines at all times.
In his speech marking the 115th Philippine Independence Day celebrations on June 12, Aquino guaranteed his administration’s unwavering commitment and perseverance to protect Filipinos’ hard-fought independence.
“Aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge. And while we will protect our rights and continue to build consensus with all parties to promote calm and understanding, we must also increase the capabilities of our Armed Forces,” the president said.
Aquino said the Philippines is asking is that its territory, rights and dignity be respected in the same way that it respects the territory, rights and dignity of other people.
“We have no other desire than to take care of what is rightfully ours. We have never trampled upon the rights of others. We have not claimed or demanded territory that clearly belongs to another. We have neither condescended upon nor oppressed others. Harming others or sowing discord with other countries is not in our history,” Aquino said.
The Philippines is locked in a longstanding territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Last month, the Philippine government protested what it calls provocative and illegal presence of a Chinese frigate and two surveillance vessels around Ayungin Reef, which is not part of the contested territories in the South China Sea but is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone [EEZ].
A Chinese frigate also chased and tailed in a provocative manner the utility boat of Kalayaan island town that carried 147 civilian passengers including town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.
Last year, tension between the two countries rose after Beijing stationed government vessels in the Scarborough Reef, which lies 124 nautical miles off Masinloc town in Zambales province in Northern Luzon, well within the Philippines’ 200 mile EEZ.
The Chinese government vessels have roped off the mouth of the shoal’s lagoon to prevent Filipino fishermen from entering.
The Philippines has brought the territorial dispute against China before the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS], challenging Beijing’s claim over the entire South China Sea.
In his remarks, Aquino said it has never been the policy of the Philippines to take advantage of other countries.
“If there has been disagreement, the whole world has witnessed our willingness to sit down and conduct dialogues in a peaceful manner,” he said. “The only thing we have asked is that our territory, rights, and dignity be respected, in the same way that we have respected the territory, rights, and dignity of other people.
“We are doing this precisely because we know that this is the key to maintaining stability, and by doing so, to continue the journey toward widespread and lasting progress, not only in our country, but also in our region and in the whole world.”
Aquino stressed the need to continuously modernize the Philippines armed forces. He said the government has been able to build 21,800 houses for Phase 1 of a housing program for Filipino soldiers and police, and almost 14,000 houses for Phase 2, “and by July, the figure will reach 31,200.”
He mentioned anew that in the next five years, the government is set to spend P75 billion [$1.73 billion USD] on the military because of the New Armed Forces Philippines [AFP] Modernization Act being passed into law.
He said that even before the amendment to the Armed Forces modernization law was passed, his administration allotted P28 billion [$648.44 million USD] for the military in the space of one year and seven months, which came close to equaling the P33 billion [$762.61 million USD] allotted to the same program by the past three administrations.
“This signifies our drive, not only to modernize our armed forces, but also to raise the dignity and morale of our soldiers.”