On 5th year of arbitral victory, senators call for ‘unflinching defense’ of PH maritime territory
MANILA, Philippines — Several senators on Monday called on both the government and the Filipino people to assert the country’s ownership of the West Philippine Sea, affirmed by a landmark arbitral ruling handed down in favor of the Philippines five years ago.
“We should make use of our victory in the tribunal to undertake a determined, focused and unflinching defense of our maritime entitlements and jurisdiction. We should be relentless in pursuing the peaceful path to exercise our rights, with the support of the international community,” Senator Grace Poe said in a statement.
“Government leaders may come and go, but this would not alter the arbitral ruling, which is our victory and pride,” she added.
Poe stressed that there is “much at stake” in the West Philippines Sea, an area rich in fish, oil, gas and other natural resources.
“Thousands of fishermen also rely on the catch area in the WPS for their food and livelihood. We stand united with them in asserting our rights to our waters and protecting our territory from invasion and illegal activities,” the senator added.
‘Complete the victory’
For Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense committee, the Philippines must continue pushing to “complete the victory,” saying much remains to be done amid China’s increasing presence in the Southeast Asian region.
“Whatever we have done, or have failed to do, and what we must continue to pursue as part of our prerogatives as a law-abiding, democratic, and sovereign nation under this administration – unfortunately – has accrued little to our ‘accumulated advantage’ in the South China Sea and in the context of Philippine-China relations,” he said.
“On the contrary, we may have done very little in stemming the tide of an increasing Chinese footprint into the ASEAN region’s foreign policy, economy, and security…Thus, let us see this day for what it truly is: Commemorating a hard-won battle, but a victory still incomplete. We must, therefore, press on to complete the victory,” he added.
On July 12, 2016, the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China’s claim of historic rights to resources within the South China Sea within its “nine-dash line.”
Lacson also said the Philippines has yet to formulate a comprehensive “pro-Filipino policy” to “complete the victory” it achieved five years ago.
“Our country needs a foreign policy that is neither pro-China or pro-US. It must only be pro-Filipino. We need a foreign policy that unites us as Filipinos, not divides us into red and yellow,” he said.
Further, he stressed the need to maintain a balance of power in the South China Sea region, which he said can be achieved through stronger ties between the Philippines and more militarily powerful allies like the United States, Australia, Japan, and some European Union countries.
“No doubt, we are committed to a peaceful South China Sea, where nations follow the rule of law and are guided by the Award. But what we face now is the threat of a resurgent China pursuing its own ‘China dream’ under Xi Jinping – at the expense of our sovereign rights and patrimony in the South China Sea and other areas,” he said.
“It is wrong to assume that there are only two ways to secure the West Philippine Sea—war or silence. Between war and timidity, there is the Arbitral Ruling. Let us stop snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. An opportunity exists to work with other countries, especially those in the ASEAN region, to find a way for us to effectively invoke the verdict we won in The Hague,” he added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, called on the Department of National Defense (DND) to expedite the building and expansion of facilities in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the West Philippine Sea.
“We need to show China that we will no longer be passive about our 2016 victory…We tirelessly and repeatedly invoke the Arbitral Ruling in our pronouncements, but we should also complement these words with actions. It is time to act,” Hontiveros said.
The senator added that the DND might also collaborate with local government units and other agencies, such as the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Agriculture, to encourage civilian activity in the KIG.
Allowing various activities or special projects in the islands, according to the senator, could demonstrate that the islands are part of Philippine territory.
“We cannot treat the islands in the WPS only as military outposts, but also as civilian territories that are simply part of the Philippines. If the Executive can devise a way that will allow for more activity in the islands, accompanied of course by security protocols, it can contribute to consolidating our sovereignty over the KIG,” she said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said the country must continue to assert its rights over the West Philippine Sea since it is key to addressing hunger, poverty, and high power cost.
Like Poe, Pangilinan pointed out that the West Philippine Sea has vast marine resources, from oil and gas reserves and to fish and other seafood that could support people’s needs and provide a source of income to Filipino fishermen.
“May mga banta na ng brownouts, ng linggo-linggong pagtaas ng presyo ng langis, at ang gutom na kinakaharap ng milyon-milyong Pilipino. Ang sagot sa lahat ng ito ay ang responsableng paggamit ng yaman ng ating karagatan,” he said.
(There are the threats of looming brownouts, weekly spiraling oil prices, and the hunger plaguing millions of Filipinos. The answers to all these could be found if we responsibly harness the wealth of our waters.)
Further, he stressed that the arbitral ruling is an important legal victory with the force and effect of law and is recognized by the international community.
“The international tribunal ruling seals our stake on the disputed waters. Pero kailangan pa rin nating igiit ang ating mga karapatan at alagaan ang ating teritoryo. Dapat nagkakaisa tayo bilang isang bansa,” he said.
(But, we have to continue asserting our rights and safeguarding our territory. We have to be united as a nation.)
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