AFP chief Gapay says situation in South China Sea remains volatile, uncertain

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MANILA, Oct 13 (Mabuhay) —  Armed Forces chief General Gilbert Gapay on Tuesday described the situation in the South China Sea as “volatile and uncertain.”

During an online forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), Gapay explained that the situation in the region has been uncertain because of the continuous aggressive actions of China and the United States’ move to protect its interest in the area.

“Situation in the South China Sea remains volatile and uncertain because of certain actions of certain actors in the area, particularly China and the United States,” Gapay said.

“We have seen aggressive actions on the part of China, from reclaiming the area and deploying some warships there and their Coast Guard is very visible in the area. Their maritime militias are there. They’re practically swarming most of the areas in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

“Here comes the United States, of course protecting their interests… in maintaining that sea lanes of trade and communications open and free and safe and secure, advocating freedom of navigation in the area,” Gapay said.

Beijing’s unilateral exercises have also resulted in a “more tensed” situation in the region, according to Gapay. The AFP chief, however, maintained that all issues in the resource-rich region should be dealt with peacefully and in a diplomatic manner.

“It has even fired recently a missile, which we have lodged a diplomatic protest on and here comes United States displaying a show of force in the area so it’s very tensed and right now the effort really is multilateral action and talking about how to peacefully resolved these issues,” Gapay said.

China has been claiming a huge portion of the South China Sea as part of its territory.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands delivered a sweeping victory to the Philippines on its case against China and invalidated the latter’s massive and historical claims over the South China Sea.

China has since refused to recognize the said ruling.

Facing senators in a budget hearing on Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the situation in the West Philippine Sea is “stable and manageable.”

Lorenzana even noted that the military could focus on the country’s internal threats such as terrorism and communist insurgency due to the stability in the West Philippine Sea.

“The external threat is being managed by our foreign affairs, the situation in the West Philippine Sea is stable at the moment and manageable. As far as we are concerned, we can focus more [of] our attention on the internal threats which is to contain the communist insurgency and the terrorists,” Lorenzana had said.

Gapay, meanwhile, said Philippine forces have continued to maintain their presence in the West Philippine Sea by conducting regular patrols.

“We conduct naval and air patrols everyday in the West Philippine Sea. It involves seven Navy assets,” Gapay said.

“We are augmented by the Philippine Coast Guard just to maintain the presence in the West Philippine Sea and to send a message to other countries there and to our allies that this is [an] assertion of our sovereignty,” he added. (MNS)

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