Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday night released a rare video on Facebook to tell the public that he doesn't clash with President Rodrigo Duterte on China, insisting that he even echoes the chief executive's statements.
Lorenzana, a retired Army general, had talked tough against Beijing for refusing to pull out its ships from reefs that are within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. Duterte, in his most recent public address, said Manila had a debt of gratitude to Beijing for vaccines, but would not compromise sovereignty.
Also on Sunday, Chinese state media reported that its aircraft carrier, Shandong, was in the South China Sea for "sovereignty drills." Lorenzana said the Philippines would stand its ground, saying in Filipino, "We will not leave (Walang alisan)."
"President Duterte's orders to us have been very clear, firm and straightforward. Defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas. Yung nagsasabi na hindi kami aligned ng Presidente, let me clarify that my pronouncement echo the stand of our presidente," he said in a Facebook video.
"For our long standing and multi-faceted relationship with China, we maintain cooperation in various areas that are mutually beneficial to our peoples. We can be cordial and cooperative with our nations but not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights. I repeat: not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights," Lorenzana said.
"While we acknowledge that China's military capability is more advance than ours, this does not prevent us from defending our national interests and our dignity as a people with all that we have," he said.
China flexes muscle
China said the group of its aircraft carrier, Shandong, was recently in the South China Sea for drills aimed at asserting "sovereignty" as a standoff with the Philippines dragged.
It was a routine exercise, Gao Xiucheng, a Navy spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army, told state-run CGTN television. Gao did not specifiy the area where the training took place.
“It is completely legitimate and beneficial in improving the country’s ability to uphold national sovereignty and security,” Gao was quoted in a statement.
Last week, the Philippine Coast Guard held drills in disputed waters, prompting a warning from Beijing against "complicating" the situation. Since April, Philippine and Chinese ships have been locked in a standoff over fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea, which is engulfed by what China claims as its own, the South China Sea.
Lorenzana last week said the reefs and islands that Beijing claims, despite falling within Manila's EEZ or exclusive economic zone, belong to the Philippines.
MORE ON THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA:
China has refused to pull out its ships from reefs inside the Philippines' EEZ despite daily diplomatic protests and summons on its ambassador to Manila.
China is claiming almost the entire South China Sea, overlapping with claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia. Some $3.4 million worth of trade passes through the disputed waters annually and Washington has expressed concern over Beijing's actions in the region.
The Chinese government also refuses to recognize a UN court's ruling that favored the Philippines and invalidated its vast claims.
While the Philippines has filed numerous diplomatic protests over China's actions that endangered the lives of Filipino fishermen, Beijing has built artificial islands over the disputed reefs.