(MANILA BULLETIN) The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was “conspicuously silent” over issues concerning the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada said on Tuesday, August 15.
In his privilege speech at the Senate, Estrada pointed out that after his father, former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada, was ousted from the presidency, and the Arroyo administration took over, there was “relative peace” in the WPS “that spanned nine (9) years.”
Estrada, again refuted former presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao’s assertion in his column, reiterating there was no such arrangement between the Estrada administration and the Chinese government to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal during the time his father was in power.
He said former Sen. Orly Mercado, who then served as defense chief of former president Estrada, also confirmed that his father made no such agreement “even verbally to anyone, to any Chinese official during his incumbency.”
“And if indeed there was such an arrangement, how come there was relative ‘peace’ in the West Philippine Sea during the Arroyo administration that spanned nine years?” Estrada said in his speech.
“It was made verbally, allegedly, to who? Can you name names, Mr. Tiglao? Stupid!” he added.
In fact, the senator said it was Mercado, along with Philippine Navy officials, who came up with the idea of running aground some of the World War II-era ships in the area and establish a presence in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) to take Philippine claim over these areas, and which Estrada readily approved.
“The Arroyo administration was conspicuously ‘silent’ in asserting our sovereign rights over issues concerning the West Philippine Sea,” he pointed out.
Estrada also noted the Arroyo administration could have “kept up the momentum” gained by the Estrada administration in pursuing a comprehensive strategy or plan of action to reinforce the country’s territorial claims in the WPS. But no such effort was done during this time.
Even the confidential memorandum of former foreign affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, addressed to the late President Benigno Aquino III, was vague as it merely stated that the “Chinese side claimed that Philippine authorities promised China that they would immediately remove the stranded vessel.”
“One thing is certain was that under the presidency of Mrs. Arroyo, several bilateral talks were held in Shanghai that resulted in the signing of agreements related to tourism and the opening of the country to Chinese investments,” the senator recalled.
Estrada insisted the BRP Sierra Madre’s presence at the shoal stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment to defending the country’s rightful claims in its territory.
“Any suggestion that goes against this commitment, regardless of whether it happened in the past or present, challenges those principles. We cannot allow mere allegations without substantial evidence to cast aside the efforts and sacrifices made to ensure our current freedoms,” he said.
“Especially not from someone who had been called out not once, but twice by media organizations by making up stuff, with absolutely no evidence to support his attacks,” the senator emphasized.