Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has slammed the Duterte regime’s apparent lack of concern to the Filipino fishermen and journalists who were harassed by the Chinese vessels present in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
De Lima made the statement following refusal from the Malacañang to comment on the recent incident wherein Chinese ships armed with destructive missiles reportedly chased a boat carrying ABS-CBN news team in the WPS last April 8.
“90 nautical miles from our mainland lies an armada of Chinese ships that are there not to fish, or to take refuge from storms, but to simply chase off or attack any vessel that dare to get close to their stolen territory. Despite this, the Duterte administration does not appear alarmed, much less concern enough to do something to address such,” she said.
“This is not the kind of reaction that we need and deserve from the President and his people as it sends an unfortunate message to the Filipinos and the rest of the world that we tolerate injustice and bullying from China against our own people. We deserve better,” she added.
Based on media reports, Chinese ships, including missile-capable boats, chased down a Filipino vessel carrying the ABS-CBN news team near Ayungin Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, last April 8.
The Filipino motorboat was reportedly traveling across various reefs and shoals in the WPS to check the livelihood of Filipino fishermen affected by the presence of Chinese vessels in the area.
When sought for reaction, Malacañang declined to comment on the said incident, with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque telling media to “defer to the SFA (Secretary of Foreign Affairs) and DND (Department of National Defense).”
“And while all these are happening, the President is busy jogging or doing other leisure activities, as if running away from his sworn duties of protecting and upholding our sovereignty,” said De Lima, a former justice secretary.
It may be recalled that the Department of National Defense (DND) said that it would order the AFP to investigate the chasing incident in the WPS.
AFP, for its part, claimed that they are already “conducting investigation and verifications to establish what transpired” and went on to blame the media for the incident, saying that “while we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job.”
The lady Senator from Bicol decried APF’s statement against the media, saying that they should focus their energy in protecting the country’s sovereignty instead of finding people to blame about the incident.
“Instead of showing concern to the media, considering that this is not the first time that this kind of incident occurred, the AFP even blamed them for doing their job to cover the real time invasion happening at our seas,” she said.
“They are now using their famous “we-will-investigate-and-verify” card, but the real question is, what happens next? Ano ba ang totoong plano nila para matigil na ang panghaharrass sa mga Pilipino sa sarili nating teritoryo?” she asked.
The intimidation of the ABS-CBN News team by Chinese ships is just among the aggressions that China had taken against Filipinos inside Philippine territory, aside from the regular intimidation of Filipino fishermen in the WPS.
On March 21, the National Task Force for the WPS reportedly said it had received a report from the Philippine Coast Guard that 220 Chinese ships were spotted at Julian Felipe Reef.
In 2018, China also stopped the crew of GMA-News from conducting interviews in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the WPS for a documentary for their TV show “Reporter’s Notebook,” with the Chinese Coast Guard saying that the Filipinos cannot proceed “without the permission of China.”
The WPS is the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South
China Sea, which has been one of the most popular territorial waterways in the world with decades-long history of maritime dispute among seven claimant-countries, including the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.
De Lima earlier filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 2201 declaring July 12 of every year as a “West Philippine Sea Victory Day” in meaningful observance to the country’s arbitration victory against China over the WPS. (30)