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Duterte bans PH from joint maritime drills in South China Sea

President Rodrigo Duterte has banned the Philippine Navy from participating in joint maritime drills in the South China Sea, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, August 3.

“President Rodrigo Duterte has a standing order to us, to me, that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea, except our national waters, the 12 mile distance from our shores,” Lorenzana said in a press briefing broadcast from Camp Aguinaldo.

According to Lorenzana, Duterte gave the order to keep the Navy and the country safe just in case violence breaks out amid rising tensions in the area.

There are no clear schedules of joint maritime drills soon, but Lorenzana was responding to a reporter’s question whether multiple claimants over the South China Sea would complicate the Philippines’ stake in the area. Just on July 22, the so-called “silent claimant” Brunei broke its silence on the issue, urging other claimants to negotiate based on the rule of law.

Why does this matter?

Joint maritime drills are exercises done by the Philippines with its allies to show their united presence in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by several Southeast Asian countries and China.

With the order, Duterte is further waiving the Philippines' assertion over the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea which belongs to the Philippines. (READ: 2 years after winning, Duterte refuses to enforce Hague ruling)

The West Philippine Sea is rich in marine life, oil, and gas, and is a strategic territory for the country, given the high volume of naval traffic in the area.

Under the Duterte administration, the Philippines has been eyeing to strike a deal with China for joint oil and gas exploration in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone or EEZ.

Duterte: 'I am inutil'

Lorenzana's announcement came just a little over a week after Duterte said in his 2020 State of the Nation Address that he was "inutil" (useless) in asserting the country's rights over the West Philippine Sea.

This was a far cry from his bold campaign promise of fighting for the country, and vowing to even ride a jet ski to patrol the area.

"So what can we do? We have to go to war, and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can, but I cannot," Duterte said. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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