CAMP AWANG, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 19 Dec) – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described as “very troubling” the issue between the United States and China over the latter’s seizure of an underwater drone of the US within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on December 15.
Lorenzana said that while the matter is between the United States and China and he believes that the two superpowers could reach an amicable settlement, he finds it “very troubling” that the incident happened within the Philippines’ EEZ “and very near our territorial waters – 50 nautical miles NW from Subic.”
“Not only does it increase the likelihood of miscalculations that could lead to open confrontation very near the Philippine mainland but the commission of activities other than innocent passage which impinge upon the right of the Philippines over the resources in its EEZ are violations of the Phil rights over its EEZ,” he said.
Lorenzana issued the statement during a visit here Monday, four days after China’s seizure of a US underwater drone called “ocean glider.”
CNN last Saturday reported that Pentagon demanded that China return what it said was an “unlawfully seized” unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) after a Chinese warship took the device from waters near a US oceanographic vessel.
“We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law,” CNN quoted Pentagon press secretary and Defense department spokesperson Peter Cook as saying.
On December 18, Cook said China had agreed to return the drone, that through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, “we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States.”
Lorenzana said he was shocked when the US counterpart told him about the UUV seized by the Chinese Navy.
“The US reported to us, ‘for your information unmanned vehicle was taken by the Chinese,’ so I responded, ‘so you conduct activity there without our knowledge?’ Lorenzana told MindaNews.
“I think one of these days we will require US to inform us what they are doing there,” he said.
Lorenzana said he was convinced by the explanation of the US Navy that what they are doing is part of information military gathering of oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature and sound speed.
He said he hopes the situation between the superpowers will not worsen as the Philippines will suffer the heaviest in terms of collateral damage.
“We are very concerned if magkaroon ng miscalculation ng dalawang super power, pati tayo makasama dyan, napakalapit lang around 50 nautical miles, magugulo ang ating environment They must settle the differences amicably”, he stressed.
Lorenzana acknowledged that the Philippines is not equipped to monitor the underwater activities of either US or China but he said he will ask these countries to inform Philippine counterparts about their maritime activities except the free passage of their water vehicles.
“Di naman natin alam ano ang ginagawa nila, wala naman tayong ways to find out what they are doing there. We allow them to pass, even ang China mayroon din silang ginagawa dyan. We will try to inform them to inform us if they doing anything except innocent passage”, Lorenza explained.
The Philippines and the United States have a 65-year old mutual defense treaty but under the Duterte administration, relations have not been easy, following the President’s disgust over statements made by US officials expressing concern on the alleged disregard of human rights and due process in his his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte has been lambasting the US government, United Nations and European Union for their criticisms against his war on drugs. But he has cozied up to China and Russia. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera /MindaNews)