COC to prevent misunderstanding in WPS: Lorenzana

MANILA A code of conduct (COC) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) within three years or earlier would reduce miscalculations and misunderstanding in the hotly-contested maritime area, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday.

Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the Pilipinas Conference organized by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, Lorenzana said it would be a "very good sign" if the document is crafted within the timeline set by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"The problem in the West Philippine Sea is the danger of miscalculations, misinterpretation. If we have this COC, we have the assurance that when we do something in accordance (with) the COC, then there will be no misunderstanding," he said.

There is no indication yet if the document would be legally binding. However, for Lorenzana, what is important is that the people on the ground and all concerned parties will commit to abide by the contents of the COC.

"What's important is the troops on the ground, the navy ships, the air force pilots and all those people there could understand that the conduct is being covered by this COC," he said.

China, the Philippines and several littoral states have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

The draft framework of the COC was approved during the ASEAN Summit held in Manila last year. Following its adoption, China and the bloc held a series of negotiations on a single draft COC negotiating text in 2018.

During his speech, Lorenzana acknowledged the "continuing militarization" in the strategic waters, which poses a serious challenge not only to Manila but also to regional peace and stability.

The Duterte administration has pursued a "calibrated, comprehensive, and constructive approach" in engaging China but it does not mean the Philippines has turned its back on the favorable arbitral ruling on the South China Sea, Lorenzana said.

"The Philippines continues to view the ruling as valid and legitimate. We have not and will never give up any part of our territory or sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the Kalayaan Island Group," he noted.

The defense chief said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also continues to show presence within the country's EEZ.

"Our naval units performed 3,836 surface missions with a total steaming of 120,696 hours covering an area of 143,445 square nautical miles. Moreover, our air units provided 5,550 flying hours in 3,490 sorties," he said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency