Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Wednesday clarified that the Philippines is not provoking any trouble in Scarborough shoal as accused by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Wenbin.
"Sila po ang nagpo-provoke. Hindi naman ho tayo (They are the ones provoking. It's not us)," Teodoro said during the Senate's public hearing on the Proposed 2024 national expenditure program of the Department of National Defense and attached agencies.
During the hearing, Senator Robinhood Padilla asked Teodoro's response to Wang's recent advice to the Philippines "not to stir up trouble" in Huangyan Island—the Chinese name for Scarborough shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.
"Sino po ba talaga ang nagpo-provoke? Sila o Tayo? (Who is really provoking? Is it them or us?" Padilla asked.
Teodoro denied any provocation from the Philippines, saying the country is only "reacting to China's actions" against Filipinos who just wanted to enter their traditional fishing ground in the Bajo de Masinloc.
"Hindi po tayo ang nagpo-provoke sa kanila. Ang ginagawa lang po natin… nagre-react lang tayo sa ginagawa po nila. Sila po ang nangunguna, sila po ang humaharang ng ating mangingisda, sila po ang naglagay ng barrier doon sa Scarborough (We are not provoking them. What we are doing is that… we are just reacting to their actions. They are ones provoking, they are blocking our fishermen, they put up barrier in Scarborough shoal)," Teodoro lamented.
Wang on Tuesday warned the Philippines not to "provoke or stir up trouble" after the Philippine Coast Guard removed a 300-meter-long floating barrier installed by the Chinese Coast Guard in the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc.
The Chinese official admitted that the floating barrier is intended to "block and drive away" Filipino boats and fishermen from entering the shoal.
As the PCG entered and removed the floating barrier, Wang accused the Philippines of intruding shoal "without China's permission."
The PCG said it removed the "hazardous" barrier upon the instructions of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, who heads the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
Meanwhile, Teodoro maintained that the shoal has been a "traditional fishing ground" for Filipino fishermen over the years.
"If it triggers something from China, it is just proving that it really has total disregard for maritime safety," he said, noting that Filipinos should benefit from the rich marine resources of the Philippine territory.
The defense chief also noted that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has already removed the thought of provocation since disputed waters "is legally owned by the Philippines under the international law."
Padilla asked about Marcos' order to the National Security Council to "civilianize the approach" in the WPS.
Teodoro said: "Kami po ay hindi tutol sa pag-uusap. Kailangan po ng diplomasya dito. Ngunit dapat sang-ayon po ito sa prinsipyadong pag-uusap (We actually support diplomatic dialogue because it is needed. But it should be in accordance with the principled conversation)—open and transparent."
Teodoro underscored that the defense sector and the AFP firmly support the government's whole-of-nation approach in confronting maritime challenges in the country.
He pointed out that there's a need to strengthen the armed forces and prepare the country for possible circumstances that would affect the country's sovereign rights over its territorial waters.
"Sa panig po natin, nakikita natin itong West Philippine Sea po ang focus. Kapag hindi po natin pinatatag ang ating sandatahang lakas baka naman po sa Philippine Rise mangyari, baka maunahan po tayo. Kaya po dapat unahan na natin (In our side, we are focusing on the West Philippine Sea. If we don't strengthen our armed forces, it may happen in the Philippine Rise, they might get ahead of us. That's why we should prepare)," Teodoro stressed.