UN as venue to resolve West Philippine Sea row gains support in Philippines

(ASIA NEWS NETWORK) A veteran lawmaker, however, stressed that the Philippines should not sever its ties with any country in protecting its territorial rights.

MANILA — More senators on Monday endorsed the proposal of retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for the Philippines to elevate to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) China’s belligerent actions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Sen. JV Ejercito joined Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Tolentino in urging the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a resolution seeking UNGA’s action to compel Beijing to respect the 2016 arbitral ruling that recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.

China has been adamant in disregarding the Philippines’ landmark victory, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea that infringed on the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“China claims to be an ally and a friend (of the Philippines)… but [it] is harassing our fisherfolk,” Ejercito told the Inquirer.

“We need to exhaust all diplomatic means to [protect] our claim [over] the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

The administration senator noted that China Coast Guard and Chinese militia boats have been “aggressive and hostile” toward Philippine vessels, including small fishing boats, within the country’s territorial waters.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada shared Ejercito’s view as he also expressed support for a Senate resolution that Hontiveros had filed on June 19 calling on the DFA to seek UNGA’s action to end China’s harassment of Philippine vessels within the country’s EEZ.

He said he believed that the majority of the senators would vote in favor of Hontiveros’ resolution.

“If that is the only way to stop China’s bullying, then go ahead. Let’s see what [the UNGA] can do to help us,” Estrada said at the Kapihan sa Senado media forum.

The veteran lawmaker, however, stressed that the Philippines should not sever its ties with any country in protecting its territorial rights.

“As President [Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] said, we have to create more friends, be it China or the US,” Estrada noted. “We have to be friendly with all the countries concerned.”

Sen. Francis Escudero, however, offered a different take on the issue, arguing that the arbitral ruling was “more binding and persuasive than a UNGA resolution.”

“The effect of a UNGA resolution lies in how it influences international law, especially customary international law,” said Escudero, a lawyer. “I don’t believe it will add anything except ruffle feathers, especially taking into account Eastern culture and practice.”

Escudero said Marcos was correct in engaging China “in areas where we can cooperate and agree.”

“[This can be done] without necessarily giving up on our rights and sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea and, in fact, asserting it with the use of our limited resources and diplomatic ties with our western allies,” the senator pointed out.

On Sunday, Tolentino backed Carpio’s proposal to bring China’s disregard of the arbitral court’s decision to the “consciousness” of the UN member states.

“There’s nothing wrong with [Carpio’s suggestion] as it will really make this an international issue,” said Tolentino, who is vice chair of the Senate foreign relations committee.

Marine degradation
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya on Monday also agreed with the proposal to reassert the country’s national sovereignty in time for the 78th Session of the UNGA in September.

Bobby Roldan, vice chair of Pamalakaya for Luzon, told the Inquirer that President Marcos should take to the international arena the troubles of Filipino fishermen in the country’s territorial waters amid China’s aggressive presence.

Records from Pamalakaya showed that fisherfolk in Zambales province have been losing 70 percent of their daily income since China seized control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012.

“China’s aggressive usurpation in the West Philippine Sea, accompanied by large-scale poaching activities, results in marine degradation and fish stock depletion,” said Roldan.

Marcos, he said, should seek international support to pressure Beijing to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling and abandon their claim over the nearly entire South China Sea, which covers the country’s EEZ.

“[Marcos] should not miss this very opportunity to seek international support in recovering our territorial waters, and as part of his commitment to boost agricultural productivity and achieve local food security,” Roldan added.

Another local fisherfolk group, the New Masinloc Fisherman’s Association, likewise welcomed the proposal, saying the government should insist that China recognize the arbitral ruling and ratify it “because the Chinese rule the area and take advantage of our marine resources.”

“That’s where we, the fishermen, are struggling because we don’t benefit from our own marine resources,” said Leonardo Cuaresma, the group’s president.