Robredo: PH must use PCA ruling as ‘weapon’; form coalitions to deal with sea row
MANILA, Philippines — The dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) cannot be solved by simply engaging in bilateral talks with China, according to Vice President Robredo, stressing the need for the Philippines to instead form coalitions with its neighbors to deal with the issue.
In an interview with talk show host Boy Abunda during the 2022 Presidential One-On-One Interviews aired on Wednesday, Robredo said that she has been reminding the government that it might not be good for the Philippines to only enter in bilateral talks with China considering the latter’s immense size and influence.
She asserted that using the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claims over the WPS for lack of legal and historical basis as the country’s “weapon” and exploring the possibility of multilateral talks should be the way to go.
“Ang tagal ko nang sinasabi na sa issue ng West Philippine Sea, hindi magiging favorable sa Pilipinas ang bilateral talks kasi napaka-laking bansa ng Tsina. ‘Yong sa akin, ‘yong multilateral na pag-uusap, ‘yong angkat natin ng kaso sa international arbitral court, ito talaga ‘yong mechanism para meron tayo nang laban,” Robredo explained.
“Sa atin ‘yong pinaka-low hanging fruit, na to leverage that decision to form a coalition of nations — parang ang coalition of nations, mas malakas ‘yon que sa mag-isa lang tayo. And ‘yon kaya ko sinasabing low-hanging fruit kasi willing ‘yong mga bansa,” she added.
Robredo was referring to other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia that are likewise at odds with China’s push for maritime supremacy over the entire South China Sea.
Forming alliances is key, she insisted, as even militarily-strong countries like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom are also forming alliances.
“Kung nakikita mo ngayon sino ba ‘yong nag-iinteres aside from those directly affected. Kasi those directly affected no’ng mga […] aside from that, kung nakikita mo ngayon meron nang bagong coalition, na namuo, US, Australia […] pero ito, sila nga mismo hindi solo eh,” she stressed.
But while she is keen on forging new ties, Robredo said the country must also spend properly in terms of its defense capabilities.
“Sa akin, ang dami nating pwedeng gawin, unang-una kailangan pinapalakas natin ‘yong ating defense. Pinapalakas natin ‘yong ating defense, naglalaan tayo ng pera para siguraduhin na ‘yong kinakailangan natin para depensahan ‘yong sarili natin ay kaya natin,” she noted.
China’s intrusion over the WPS has been a big issue during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, as critics claimed that he allowed the Asian superpower free reign over the disputed areas.
While Duterte said he was not the one responsible for yielding territories in the WPS, he also maintained that the country cannot afford to go to war with China and that Manila s is indebted to Beijing.
But in 2021, several events marked China’s continuous insistence that most of the WPS belong to them.
Last November, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed that Chinese Coast Guard vessels “blocked and water cannoned” boats that were in a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, a ship grounded at the Ayungin shoal.
Ayungin Shoal where BRP Sierra Madre was intentionally grounded to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Navy is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In March 2021, the Philippine Coast Guard and the National Task Force on the WPS said that over 220 Chinese ships were spotted in line formation near the Julian Felipe Reef.
The reef is just 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan — also inside the country’s EEZ.