Press Release
April 7, 2016


Amid the fresh round of military exercises between the Philippines and the U.S. and a lingering territorial dispute with China, presidential candidate Miriam Defensor Santiago urged the government to move toward self-reliance and end its dependence on American forces for national security.

"The Philippines will have to once and for all abandon its full-spectrum dependence on America as a guarantor of its national security," said Santiago, who is a major critic of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) at the Senate.

The senator noted that both the VFA and the EDCA are silent on the extent of American commitments to the Philippines, while imperiling the country's sovereignty and welfare. It is also unclear whether the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 covers the West Philippine Sea disputes, she added.

"Instead of relying on the U.S., or acquiescing to China, the Philippines will have to augment its surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence-gathering capabilities in order to effectively monitor developments in its surrounding waters, preferably at least within its 200- nautical-miles exclusive economic zone," Santiago said.

She then vowed a refurbished, empowered, and well-equipped Philippine Coast Guard if elected president, to protect the country's territorial integrity through civilian law enforcement operations against illegal, underreported, and unregulated fishing, especially from China and Vietnam.

Santiago said white-hull coast guard forces, not grey-hulled naval vessels, should primarily be deployed in the West Philippine Sea. "The moment the Philippines employs naval vessels for law-enforcement operations, as it did during the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012, it risks escalation and all-out war," she added.

The senator also said that in the issue of territorial integrity, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should be developed only second to the Coast Guard. She noted, however, that it is crucial for the AFP to adopt a more outward, maritime-centered security doctrine, instead of focusing on domestic security.

"Obviously, the Philippines or any regional state can never match Chinese defense spending, but we will have to have to develop minimum deterrence capabilities that allow us to resist and inflict sufficient retaliation if China continues to undermine Philippine territorial integrity," Santiago said.

Once elected, Santiago said she will fortify Philippine presence in disputed areas, by effectively maintaining, if not augmenting, its facilities in Pag-Asa, Ayungin, and other features under its control, in order to provide minimum necessary protection against Chinese adventurism.

"So long as we don't permanently alter the nature of disputed features, we will not be violating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," said Santiago, who is also an international law expert. She nonetheless said her government will leverage on the outcome of the Philippine-initiated arbitration case.

The senator said her government will ensure that Philippine relations with China are not defined only by territorial dispute. Besides engaging with China on key areas of cooperation, a Santiago presidency will also work with fellow Asean countries to create an optimal level of regional unity on the issue of the West Philippine Sea.

"The Philippines must ensure that it adopts, as much as possible, an equi-balancing strategy towards both China and America. To push back against Chinese adventurism by deepening Philippine dependence on another power runs counter to the very logic of protecting its national sovereignty," Santiago said.

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