A CONGRESSMAN on Tuesday questioned a proposed increase in the Defense department’s so-called sovereignty budget next year given President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s order not to involve troops in military exercises in the South China Sea.

During a House of Representatives budget hearing on Tuesday, Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas noted that the budget needed to defend the country’s sovereignty had been increased to P41.1 billion from P33.96 billion this year.

The Executive branch has submitted a P283.2-billion budget for the Defense department next year.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorezana in March said Mr. Duterte had ordered the military not to participate in naval exercises of other countries in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had said the move was “in the interest of both China and the Philippines and regional peace and stability.”

Responding to Ms. Brosas’s question, Mr. Lorenzana said: “We continue to patrol over our territories, our exclusive economic zones and the Kalayaan group of islands.”

He said the military won’t participate in US war games in the disputed sea. The Philippines may join exercises in its territorial waters such as the Sulu Sea, he added.

“We are doing our best with the assets available to us,” Mr. Lorenzana said. “The West Philippine Sea is so wide and the navy has limited assets and also the Air Force. But we are trying our best with our limited assets to assert our sovereignty over the area,” he said in mixed English and Filipino, referring to parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Of the P283.2 billion proposed budget of the Defense department for next year, P122.1 billion will go to personal services, P74.5 billion to veteran pensions, P37.6 billion for capital outlay and P49 billion for maintenance and other operations.

Mr. Lorenzana said the chunk of their budget would be allotted to personal services, pensions and maintenance. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza