Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima is alarmed at the increasing presence and relentless intrusion of Chinese militia vessels within the country’s local waters.
De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) 694 urging the government’s Executive branch to exert all legal and diplomatic actions on the Chinese government in asserting Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reportedly spotted around 220 Chinese militia vessels moored at the Julian Felipe Reef.
“The Duterte administration’s refusal to strongly invoke our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and opting instead to adopt a policy of appeasement towards Chinese militarization may result in condoning the continued unlawful actions of the Chinese Government that assault our sovereignty in the WPS,” she said.
“Silence and softness, if not inaction on the part of our President on a clear breach of our sovereignty only serves to weaken our territorial integrity for future generations,” she added.
Last March 7, the PCG said that it had spotted 220 Chinese vessels it believed to be “manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel” at the Juan Felipe Reef, approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, and well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
On March 21, after a recommendation from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. filed another diplomatic protest against China over this new incident in the WPS.
A day after, however, Malacañang downplayed the incident with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque describing the Philippines as having a “close friendship” with China and that “friends and neighbors can talk everything out.”
Note that in a landmark ruling on July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) found no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to a “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea but China refused to honor the ruling.
The said arbitral award recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its 200 nautical miles (NM) EEZ in the WPS.
De Lima, who, as then DOJ Secretary was part of the Philippine delegation to The Hague for the oral arguments, emphasized that the increasing presence and unrelenting intrusion of militia vessels within the Philippine territory expose the country to further geopolitical risks and destruction of marine resources that only serve to eclipse the country’s international triumph from the PCA and diminish its claim over the WPS.
“All acts that are or tend to be prejudicial to the national security or vital interests of the State must be thoroughly and conscientiously reviewed and dealt with – lest a perilous precedent of equating tolerance with surrender be assumed by foreign forces,” she said.
“The convenient excuse of diplomatic ties should never be whimsically and capriciously raised without first fully assessing the extent and far-reaching implications of matters that concern our national sovereignty and security,” she added.
De Lima stressed that necessary measures must be undertaken to ensure that Philippine territory is afforded utmost security from threats of invasion and subjugation.
“The State is mandated to at all times assert our sovereignty over the entire archipelago in order to protect our national interest and national security, and to perpetually put premium on our nation’s welfare,” she said.
“The serious repercussions of tolerating acts that amount to threatening our national sovereignty and security must never be watered down with nonchalant and reckless statements that paint the picture as less dangerous than what it actually is,” she added.
In order for the State to fulfill its mandate of protecting and upholding Philippine sovereignty, De Lima said “it is imperative that the government exhaust any and all legal remedies, including invoking the 2016 PCA ruling, in order to be more forceful in asserting our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.”