PRESIDENTIAL aspirant and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr. said he will prioritize matters relating to the South China Sea dispute if elected next year, including a review of the Philippine’s defense pact with the United States.  

“The timing is now right to revisit the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty, after the US expressed willingness to enhance efforts toward an international law-based maritime order, including freedom of navigation,” Mr. Lacson said in a statement on Monday.  

The senator flew to Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island last Saturday, during which the Chinese Coast Guard sent warnings as their plane passed over the West Philippine Sea part of the South China Sea.   

“Being radio challenged by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel stationed more than three nautical miles off the coast of Pag-asa, I never considered backing out,” Mr. Lacson said on Twitter Sunday evening.  

“We treat China as a friend, but does China treat us that way? Friendship should be on equal footing, not one-way,” said Mr. Lacson in a mix of English and Filipino during an interview with Radyo 5 Monday.   

He cited that China once challenged a US warship passing in the area. When the US vessel’s captain invoked the right of innocent passage, the Chinese vessel did not block or attack the American-flagged vessel with water cannons like it did against two Philippine vessels last week.  

“There we can see that if there is balance of power in the West Philippine Sea, there would be no war and we will be able to protect our sovereign rights and territorial integrity,” he said.    

Under the Philippine-US treaty, both sides must help each other in case of any external aggression.  

At the same time, Mr. Lacson said tapping American help does not mean he will particularly favor the country, or any other country for that matter.   

The Philippines’ foreign policy should always be anchored on national interest, he added.   

Balance of power, through enhanced alliances with other militarily strong countries including the US, will be emphasized under a Lacson presidency, he said.   

“We have sovereign rights on our exclusive economic zone, we can assure all nations that we will observe and uphold that freedom of navigation, something China does not do.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan