DEPARTMENT of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. has vowed to assert the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippines Sea (WPS) amid the continuous incursion activities of China.

Faustino said he is “guided by the pronouncement” of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in dealing with the matter, particularly in invoking the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands in favor of the Philippines.

China refused to recognize the ruling, which invalidates its claims within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line, which is over 90 percent of the WPS.

“I am being guided by his pronouncements about how we deal with China, particularly on matters involving other avenues than the conflict that we are discussing here at the West Philippine Sea. More on economic, and he even mentioned about the possibility of a military-to-military exchange with China,” Faustino said in a press conference.

“Our sovereignty is inviolable and we have to protect our territorial integrity...With or without the arbitral ruling, we will continue to protect what is ours. We are in a better state right now that we were 10 years ago in terms of military capability to conduct maritime security and sovereignty patrols in those areas,” he added.

Faustino said there had been sightings of Chinese militia vessels in the contested WPS and there were there “for quite some time.”

He said they are currently coordinating with the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, as well as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on how to address these incursions.

“We also challenge the Chinese kung lumapit sila sa atin. The good thing about it, I heard, ay meron nang communication from our PCG to the CCG, so kung meron mang hindi magandang coordination o magkaroon ng miscalculation... ‘Pag lumapit tayo, they challenge us. ‘Pag lumapit sila, we challenge them also. Sa atin, ang sinasabi natin, teritoryo namin ito, karapatan namin na nandito kami sa lugar na ito,” said Faustino.

“We will insist on what we want to do in Ayungin Shoal -- and all other areas na may presence tayo—because that is ours. Kung magkaroon ng incursions, we file a diplomatic protest,” he added.

Meanwhile, Faustino urged the Congress to review the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which needs their support especially for funding.

Faustino is a former chief of staff of the AFP.

“Through the GAA (General Appropriations Act), we receive a certain amount allocated to us every year... We’re trying to review it in a way na if these are really what we need with the budget na kayang ibigay sa atin ng gobyerno,” Faustino said. (SunStar Philippines)