Isko Moreno also eyes WPS trip – but not on jet ski
MANILA, Philippines — Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso vowed to personally go to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) if elected president to challenge trespassing vessels, whether from China or other countries, and defend Filipino fisherfolk against harassment.
But unlike President Rodrigo Duterte’s catchy campaign promise, Domagoso said he’d do it aboard a Navy frigate — not on a jet ski.
“We have frigates. I’ll be there, why not? [But] not through jet ski. I’m going to be fair with you, I don’t want to over-promise things,” he said, alluding to the April 2016 pledge made by Duterte, then the Davao City mayor making a bid for Malacañang, to go on a splashy, solo ride to the Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag in the disputed area.
Interviewed months later, the president waved away that statement as mere hyperbole. He doesn’t even know how to swim, he said.
But Domagoso on Tuesday said he was serious.
“We’ll be there. We’ll protect our fishermen,” the Aksyon Demokratiko standard-bearer told reporters covering his campaign in Gitagum, Misamis Oriental.
“We need to fish in our oceans within our sovereign territory, and that includes Panatag Shoal,” the 47-year-old former actor said, responding to reports of Chinese Coast Guard vessels bullying Filipino fishermen around the shoal located within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
Domagoso said he didn’t intend to declare war against China but would assert the country’s sovereignty as well as the 2016 Hague ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea and affirmed the right of Filipino fisherfolk to fish in the disputed waters.
Doing a Zelensky
“I will not go to war for as long as we can avoid it. We are not one to instigate a fight. But remember, we won’t tolerate abuse,” he said.
“We will insist on the Hague ruling, and we will fish in our waters that includes Panatag Shoal. If I need to go with the fisherfolk, I’ll be with them. If Zelensky can do it, we can do it also,” Domagoso said, referring to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had stood up to the Russian invasion of his country.
On Monday, Beijing asked Manila to “earnestly respect” China’s sovereignty and “avoid interfering” with the patrol operations of the China Coast Guard (CCG) at Panatag. This was a day after Philippine officials reported that a CCG vessel maneuvered dangerously close to Philippine Coast Guard ship BRP Malabrigo while patrolling the shoal on March 2.
“They can spin what they want to spin, but my obligation if elected president is to protect all Filipino citizens anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world,” Domagoso said. “That is the job of the president. And that includes our resources and geography. We are a sovereign country.”
The shoal is a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and islands around a 150-kilometer-wide lagoon off Zambales.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the March 2 incident, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Tuesday.
It is the latest of more than 200 diplomatic protests that Manila has filed against Beijing.
“There may be counter-claims but we, as a nation, will stand by our established sovereign rights and sovereignty over the area,” Esperon said.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday said he believed the Chinese vessel’s “close distance maneuvering” was deliberate because of Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the maritime area.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Monday that the shoal, which they refer to as Huangyan Dao, is China’s “inherent territory.” Malacañang rejected his claim.
“Based on the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it is clear that the dangerous maneuver by the Chinese Coast Guard was not merely incidental, accidental or by chance. It was deliberate. It was malicious,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“We condemn the malicious and reckless action of the Chinese Coast Guard in endangering the lives of the Filipinos aboard BRP Malabrigo,” he added.
Who to blame?
Del Rosario said the CCG’s act violated international law and agreements. He noted that similar actions in the past had been the subject of the Philippine arbitration case against China and ruled upon in 2016 as violative of international law.
“It is under the sovereignty of the Philippines, not China. Therefore, the presence and conduct of patrol by the Chinese Coast Guard in Bajo de Masinloc is illegal and affects the peace in the West Philippines Sea and the South China Sea,” he said.
President Duterte should be blamed for China’s aggression in Philippine waters, according to the fishers’ group, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).
“Duterte’s subservient foreign policies emboldened China to become more aggressive and hostile in our territorial waters,” Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya national chair, said, referring to Mr. Duterte’s pivot to China in exchange for pledges of loans, aid and investment.
—WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, FRANCES MANGOSING AND REUTERS
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