West Philippine Sea: Where presidential aspirants stand | Inquirer News

West Philippine Sea: Where presidential aspirants stand

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 01:45 PM November 29, 2021

West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines––Less than a year before the elections, aspirants for elective positions try to woo votes through flowery words like maasahan (dependable), may paninindigan (principled) or kaya kang ipaglaban (will fight for you).


Words, as experience has taught us, are not enough, though.

Honeyrei Darapiza, 18, told INQUIRER.net that it was really important to know where candidates stand on various issues, especially those that impact Filipinos who are struggling with daily survival.


The League of Women Voters Education Fund came out with what it said were steps in assessing candidates. One of these is to look closely at what candidates say on issues, especially during interviews.

In the Philippines, at the end of the regular filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) at the Commission on Elections (Comelec), 97 individuals formalized their intent to run for president to replace Rodrigo Duterte whose tenure is ending in 2022.

While the list of presidential aspirants showed 97 names, the Comelec was likely to trim this down and the Philippines was likely to see just seven aspirants for president.

They are Ka Leody de Guzman, Sen. Bong Go, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Vice President Leni Robredo.

In this series, INQUIRER.net will break down where these seven individuals stand on key issues, like the fight for the West Philippine Sea, the government’s war on drugs, the insurgency and corruption in the Philippines.

Fight for sovereignty

The latest display of aggression by China in the West Philippine Sea, a maritime area inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), came on Nov. 16 when a China coast guard vessel blocked Philippine boats transporting supplies to a Philippine military outpost on Ayungin Shoal and attacked them with water cannons.

READ: China Coast Guard ‘blocked and water cannoned’ PH supply boats in WPS

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Nov. 23 said the hostile action was just a sign that China continued to harass and intimidate Filipinos inside Philippine EEZ. He had questioned the hostile act through communication with Chinese officials.


Recently, the spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry said the Philippines should “honor its commitment” and remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, a ship intentionally grounded by the Philippine Navy to serve as an outpost for Philippine troops. Lorenzana said there was no such commitment.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the Nov. 16 incident “does not speak well of the relations between the Philippines and China.” But he also said the continuing aggression of China inside Philippine EEZ was a “strategic challenge that cannot be solved by force.”

Duterte said the Philippines would continue to cite the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and its victory in the arbitration case against China as “legal ways” to assert Philippine sovereignty.

But Duterte’s previous statement on the Philippines’ win against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration continued to haunt his stand in asserting Philippine sovereignty. The arbitration court ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim to most of South China Sea, including Philippine EEZ, had no legal basis, but Duterte said it was just a piece of paper.

Last May, Duterte said the arbitration ruling was worthless and can be thrown into the waste basket, which was the same line of China.

READ: Why do China, Duterte descriptions of arbitral ruling look the same?

Duterte’s stand on China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea drew widespread condemnation and had been described as “betrayal of national interest.” In a survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS) in July, or just two months after Duterte belittled the arbitration ruling, there was a 47 percent disagreement on how the President was handling the issue.

The survey results said that of the 47 percent who disagreed with government handling of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, 18 percent “strongly agreed” that Duterte was mishandling the situation, 29 percent said they “somewhat agreed” and only 24 percent said they agreed with how Duterte was handling the issue.

West PH Sea ‘important’

Another survey by SWS in 2019 showed that 93 percent of Filipinos consider having control of resources in the West Philippine Sea as “important”. At least 74 percent of these considered it “very important” while 19 percent believed it was “somewhat important.”


In 2012, West Philippine Sea was the official name given to the “western maritime area of the Philippines.” It was through the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s Administrative Order No. 29.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who filed a resolution to declare July 12 as the National West Philippine Sea Victory Day, said the rich resources of the West Philippine Sea would highly benefit millions of Filipinos.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said in the Philippines, in 2020, at least 324,312 metric tons of fish products were harvested from the West Philippine Sea. This comprised seven percent of that year’s fish production.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau said with 62,000 to 91,000 metric tons of fish harvested yearly, the sea has enough resources to feed 1.6 to 2.3 million Filipinos every year.

READ: Before China poop popped in WPS, reclamation already exacting toll on PH

In 2013, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the United States (US) Geological Survey estimated that the Recto Bank possibly has anywhere between 0.8 and 5.4 (mean 2.5) billion barrels of oil and between 7.6 and 55.1 (mean 25.5) trillion cubic feet of natural gas in “undiscovered resources”.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

Where do they stand?

Last Nov. 4, Prof. Jay Batongbacal, a maritime law expert, said there should be a “long-term” policy in the West Philippine Sea, saying that the Philippines could possibly lose the region if the next regime will continue Duterte’s stand of accommodation.

READ: PH needs West Philippine Sea policy that no president can change—expert

This makes it crucial for people to know where the presidential aspirants stand.

Here’s what they say:

Graphic by Ed Lustan

  • Ka Leody De Guzman

On Nov. 22, De Guzman, a workers’ rights activist and Partido Lakas ng Masa’s standard bearer, said China’s aggression was the result of Duterte’s betrayal of the Philippines and the presence of the US military.

READ: Presidential aspirant De Guzman pins blame for China harassment on Duterte 

“China’s encroachment on Philippine territory is the logical conclusion of Duterte’s pandering to China and his betrayal of the country. China is now more confident in ignoring the Unclos and disrespect[ing] the territory and sovereignty of the Philippines,” he said.

De Guzman also said the West Philippine Sea should be “demilitarized” and rid of the presence of China and US, explaining that military presence in the area of the two most powerful nations in the world threatens the territory and sovereignty of the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia.

  • Sen. Bong Go

Go, the standard bearer of the Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan and the vice chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, said “it’s ours”, referring to the West Philippine Sea.

“It belongs to us and it is ours to protect and use for the benefit of our people,” he said as he condemned China’s demand for removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, saying that Unclos should be respected.

“No one can legally prevent us from exercising our rights. Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas (What is ours is ours),” he said on Nov. 28. He, however, said the government should assert its rights in a peaceful way.

  • Sen. Panfilo Lacson

On Nov. 20 Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, visited Pag-Asa Island. His plane, however, received a warning from the Chinese Navy which said Lacson and his companions were entering “Chinese territory.”

READ: Lacson visits Pag-asa Island amid tension in WPS

Lacson said China “had no right” to prevent the visit, saying that “I never considered backing out. Aside from the possibility of being fired at being remote, this is my country, not theirs. They had no right. That was my mindset.”

Lacson, the standard bearer of Partido Reporma, recently filed a resolution condemning China’s actions, stressing the need to consistently invoke and protect “our internationally recognized rights through continuing diplomatic dialogue with nations of mutual or common interests in the West Philippine Sea.”

He said he proposed an additional P254 million for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to finance the enhancement of facilities in the West Philippine Sea. “If we see problems, we follow it up with action,” said Lacson.

  • Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and standard bearer of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, has not issued a new statement related to the Nov. 16 hostile action by China against Philippine boats.

READ: Bongbong parrots Duterte on West PH Sea: We don’t stand a chance vs China

In October, however, he was at the Chinese Embassy upon invitation by Chinese officials to inaugurate a photo exhibit supposedly showing good relations between the Philippines and China. The event was timed for the anniversary of Philippine-China relations which started in 1975 during the Marcos dictatorship.

On Sept. 24, Marcos Jr. parroted Duterte’s policy on China. “The policy of engagement that the Duterte government is doing, although it is criticized, is the right way to go,” he said, stressing that reaching a “bilateral consensus” with China is the “most important” way.

  • Mayor Isko Moreno

Moreno, the standard bearer of Aksyon Demokratiko, said on Nov. 11: “We will be fearless in fighting for what is ours. We will insist on the Hague Ruling. But at the same time as being fearless, we are going to be fair with our discussion and management of the situation on both sides.”

READ: Isko Moreno: We will be fearless in defending WPS; fair in discussing arbitral ruling

A week later, after the Nov. 16 hostile act by China, he reiterated his “fearless” stance, saying that Filipinos “should be able to fish within our territorial sea. And that is what will happen: undeterred, peaceful, and productive fishing opportunities under our rules. Filipino fishermen first.”

He also said the reinforcement of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the US would help Filipinos defend their country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. “The MDT will be recognized, definitely,” he said.

  • Sen. Manny Pacquiao

Pacquiao, the standard bearer of one faction of the PDP-Laban and its coalition with the famed boxer’s own parties, said there was no need to go into a fight with other nations to assert Philippine territorial rights.

READ: Pacquiao on China’s invasion in West PH Sea: No need to fight other nations

“We need to protect our country. We need to fight for our rights. But, we must always focus on the best interest of our people. This should be our focus with our foreign policy. We need a policy that would help Filipinos and our country,” he said.

Last May, as he criticized Duterte’s response to Chinese aggression as “lacking,” the President reiterated, appearing to insult Pacquiao: “Study first before making a statement,” Duterte had said of Pacquiao.

READ: ‘Nakukulangan ako:’ Pacquiao finds Duterte’s recent stance vs China over WPS lacking

In October, Pacquiao told ANC: “We need to insist and defend what is ours and we don’t need to start a fight with China.”

  • Vice President Leni Robredo

Robredo, who is running for president as an independent, has been consistent in her stand on the West Philippine Sea: The Philippines should assert its rights.

On Nov. 25, she said: “We see that if we’re consistent, China is backing off. If we’re consistent with our position, we get the support and cooperation of other countries, and this is what we have been fighting for from the very start.”

READ: Leni Robredo: ‘Our position on West Philippine Sea issue must be consistent’

Robredo said in October that if elected president, she will cooperate with China in areas where there’s no conflict—like trade and investments—like what Vietnam has been doing.

“But when it comes to the West Philippine Sea, we cannot deal with them without their recognition of the arbitral ruling,” she said.

READ: Robredo says talks about WPS will start only if China acknowledges Hague ruling 


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TAGS: Ayungin Shoal, Elections, INQFocus, maritime dispute, Permanent Court of Arbitration, President Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea
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