MANILA – Beijing's actions are not that of a friend, Sen. Richard Gordon said, following the reported presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in disputed waters off Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island).
The military recently expressed concern over the Chinese vessels that have been almost stationary near the island since January. The vessels are considered as "maritime militia", which sustains Beijing’s "assertive presence" in the area, said LTC Elpidio Factor of the Western Command.
"Sabi ng China kaibigan natin sila, pero a friend does not send hundreds of army, hundreds of navy, does not send hundreds of vessels to harass our fishermen in our territory," Gordon was quoted as saying in a statement released Saturday by his office.
(China said they're our friend, but a friend does not send hundreds of army, hundreds of navy, does not send hundreds of vessels to harass our fishermen in our territory.)
The Philippines should have a strong military and naval force or otherwise risk being "pushed around by other countries," he said.
Gordon said he pushed for 13 percent of the proceeds from the tax reform law to go to the military, on top of the budget from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, to ensure that soldiers will not go to war without the proper equipment.
Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, in a meeting with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo last week, claimed that the people manning the vessels are "fishermen, not militia."
China and Manila, Panelo noted, previously agreed that "fishermen should not be disturbed there, both sides."
"If they want to fish there, they can fish," he told ANC.
The Chinese government, however, should "stop it if indeed they have knowledge of these militiamen or fishermen staying there and watching us," said Panelo.
The Philippines has filed a note verbale over the presence of Chinese vessels off Pag-asa Island, he said.
China refuses to recognize a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal's ruling that invalidated its sweeping 9-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
Philippine authorities have repeatedly raised concerns over China's activities in the disputed waters, particularly militarization efforts, which Beijing denied.