The armed forces in Palawan are ready to apprehend Chinese intruders in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) anytime but Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Admiral Rene Medina said they need to be ordered by their higher headquarters and Malacañang to comply.
He said the current situation right now in the WPS is not just about the environment, but a mixture of political and environmental which involve decisions of several government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“On the part of the armed forces, particularly the DND, we’re also waiting for the action that will be taken by our DENR as one of the respondents. Hindi namin sila mapangunahan, eh. But if we have a directive from higher headquarters, the WESCOM is really very willing to implement [apprehensions]. To do what is right for us is what we will do,” Medina said on Monday during a media conference at the WESCOM headquarters.
Although WESCOM has not done this, Medina pointed out that through the Joint Task Force West (JTFW), they have been conducting increased “maritime and sovereignty patrol missions” to sustain the Philippines’ claim to nine islands in the disputed territory.
“We are also conducting regular rotation and re-provisioning of troops assigned in our island detachments to make sure that the needs of our soldiers are being looked upon and taken care of,” he added.
He pointed out further that they are able “to orchestrate and synchronize efforts of different government agencies in the area of operation of WESCOM that are sharing the responsibility of addressing the WPS concerns.”
WPS constructions, Filipino presence
Medina also updated that constructions of “development projects” in the WPS are moving such as the rehabilitation of Rancudo Airstrip, sheltered port, and beaching ramp among others.
“WESCOM is devotedly committed to supporting the completion of projects that previous leadership has started. As of today, the beaching ramp is 58.98 percent complete and the sheltered port on Pag-asa Island is 30.22 percent complete,” he said.
Medina said they will also provide frameworks for increased Filipino presence in Kalayaan town “to assert the country’s ownership and lawful rights over the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG)” with the help of appropriate government agencies and authorities to provide a condition in the region that is comfortable and safe to live in.
Writ of Kalikasan
On the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision to issue the writ of kalikasan to compel the government to protect the marine environment in the WPS, Medina said no directive has been passed down to them yet.
Medina said it might be tackled with them during the regular meeting of the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS).
“There was no information yet, and we are hoping that the NTFWPS meeting will discuss the writ of kalikasan. But on the part of the WESCOM, we respect the issuance of the writ; it’s really a part of the judicial process… on our part, we are continuously preserving and protecting our marine environment. If you have noticed, the committee that we have on illegal entrants is very active in prosecuting poachers, specifically the Vietnamese. So merong ongoing cases na tayo doon,” he said.
Medina declined to further comment on the matter, saying they would rather wait for the directive from the NTFWPS or their higher-ups to be able to act accordingly on the writ issuance.
On May 3, the SC issued the writ of kalikasan in response to a filed petition by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for farmers and fishermen in Palawan and Zambales seeking the protection of the marine environment in the WPS from destruction due to Chinese fishing vessels encroaching on traditional fishing grounds.
The writ is a “legal remedy” that provides protection of the Constitutional right to a healthy environment under Section 16, Article II of the Philippine Constitution.