THE Philippines should first become “strong internally” in its maritime dispute in the South China Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. said in an interview at the sidelines of the last pre-SONA (State of the Nation Address) forum on Wednesday, July 18.
“Magpalakas ka muna (get stronger first). I think (President Rodrigo R. Duterte)] is going through the correct direction (that we should) be strong internally first before you could claim external strength,” Mr. Esperon said.
He also lashed out at critics of the government’s stand in the dispute, saying, “Ano pang giyera mo (what weapons do you have for war)?”
Mr. Duterte, however, is the only public figure to raise war was an option. His critics such as Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo and Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio are otherwise pushing for a new formal protest against China’s continued incursion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Asked if he considered the Philippines strong, Mr. Esperon said, “Well, not so much.” He added that, “with our macroeconomics, okay tayo (we are okay).”
Mr. Esperon said the government should prioritize solving its terrorist, drug, and corruption problems and pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to help strengthen the nation internally.
“What are our problems? MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), terrorism, CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army), corruption, drugs. If you can solve all of these, we can become stronger,” Mr. Esperon said in Filipino.
He added: “After that, slowly, because we are getting stronger, we will be able to build up our capabilities to guard the South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea.”
“Tapusin mo muna yung mga problema mo….Hindi yung itutulak ka para lumaban agad sa isang giyera sa West Philippine Sea na alam mo naman yung problema doon (We should solve our problems first….and not be forced to immediately fight a war in the West Philippine Sea, and you know the problems there),” Mr. Esperon said. — Dane Angelo M. Enerio