The United States government is “obviously waiting” for Manila to call if it needs assistance in removing foreign vessels that are unauthorized to stay in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Tuesday.
“So we were working round the clock, so to speak, in terms of being able to navigate or making sure that there’s the freedom of the sea and that Code of Conduct that we are pushing,” he said in a pre-taped briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
“At the same time, the United States is obviously waiting for us to call them if we need their assistance in removing or asking the vessels that are parked in our area of responsibility or economic zone. And both our Philippine Navy and the US Navy are working on this,” he added.
The envoy issued the statement when asked if there were any commitments from the US side in securing the West Philippine Sea.
Romualdez said both the Pentagon and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are communicating on the matter.
“(Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana had a recent telephone conversation with Secretary (of Defense Lloyd Austin) in the United States. Both are obviously working together and the United States has just recently sent their USS Theodore Roosevelt and they had an operation there at the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, earlier issued a barrage of diplomatic protests against the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef and several areas within the country’s EEZ.
In a public address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte warned China that he will send “gray ships” to the West Philippine Sea should it start drilling for oil in the disputed waters.
Duterte also made it clear that there is a “limit” to the Philippines’ friendship with China, especially when Beijing starts asserting a claim over oil and gas deposits in the disputed waters.
“I am addressing myself to the Chinese government, we want to remain friends, we want to share whatever it is. Sinabi ko naman sa inyo sa (I told you) Chinese government, I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish really to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China sea sa ating oil, diyan na ako (in our oil, that’s when I will act). Then by that time I will send my ships there,” he said.