Why Filipinos need to support gov't move on China row

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 04 2014 02:58 AM | Updated as of Apr 04 2014 10:58 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Leaders of the House of Representatives yesterday rallied the public to support the government’s move to bring the country’s territorial dispute with China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the lawmakers strongly support the move of the government to file a memorial or pleading before the ITLOS.

The 4,000-page memorial contained the legal basis, maps and other arguments on the country’s claim on the West Philippine Sea.

“Going to the UN is not a hostile act. It is in fact a mechanism where a small country’s side can be heard. Otherwise, the mighty like China can just do anything it wants with its power behind it,” Belmonte said.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said China may have the military might, but the Philippines has legal remedies like bringing its claims before the ITLOS.

Atienza was one of the framers of the country’s position paper for submission to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2009 when he was still environment secretary.

“We cannot go on like this when our fellow Filipino fishermen are being bullied and driven away from our own legitimate fishing grounds,” he said.

He stressed the Philippines also has historical basis for its claim, including Spanish maps.

“Our country’s vast natural resources should be protected and properly managed to benefit all Filipinos, specially our future generations,” he said.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo dismissed threats of reprisals from China over the filing of the memorial.

“China can impose whatever economic and political reprisals it wishes to impose about our claim of sovereignty to the exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, but we will always seek what is the generally accepted way to settle the issue under the international law,” Castelo said.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello said China risks isolation in rejecting international arbitration in resolving its territorial dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea.

“The legal instrument serves as the most potent force that can counter China’s bullying in the region,” Bello said, adding the memorial “will cement our country’s claim and secure our country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.”

“The memorial’s impact cannot be discounted. It will create a ripple effect that will turn into a tsunami of favorable international public opinion to support and legally fortify our claim,” he said.

Peace, not victory sign

Meanwhile, Filipino sailors and journalists who had witnessed the Chinese coast guard’s failed attempt to stop the delivery of supplies to the Marine outpost on Ayungin Shoal said they were flashing the peace sign and not the victory sign.

They made the clarification to belie a report in the Taiwanese media that they were mocking the Chinese sailors for failing to block the Filipino vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“Philippine sailors gloat as China fails to block Sierra Madre supply run,” a report in the WantChinaTimes said.

A STAR journalist who was on the Filipino vessel said they shouted “Peace! Peace! Peace!” while flashing the V-sign when the Chinese ship sailed very close to the BFAR vessel’s starboard or right side.

A Navy official said that the erroneous report is now being used by the Chinese military in its sustained propaganda campaign to portray the Filipinos as bullies.

For a University of the Philippines professor, China is likely to invite military intervention from the United States if it forcibly removes the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

“Any attempt to tow it away from Ayungin may finally trigger the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” said UP law professor Harry Roque Jr.

“The US has said that the treaty may not be triggered by fighting in the West Philippine Sea because it does not recognize Philippine title to the area. But an attack against a Philippine-commissioned naval ship may be sufficient for the purpose,” he explained.

Roque also believes that China can no longer take into its possession the contested Ayungin Shoal.

“Even if China were to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal and build yet another artificial island there, it will never acquire title over the area. The reason: international law has long outlawed the acquisition of territory through conquest,” he pointed out.

And should China insist on occupying the shoal, he said the repercussions could be grave and massive.

“The West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indochina conflict,” he warned.

He was referring to the armed encounters between Vietnamese and Chinese forces in 1974 and 1988 over control of the Paracel islands, which left more than 70 Vietnamese dead.

Meanwhile, militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said it is not supporting the filing of memorial before the arbitral tribunal in The Hague.

“The statement of Malacañang that the case against Beijing was filed in the name of national interest and sovereign and territorial claims of the Filipino people is the grandmother of all hoax,” Pamalakaya said. – With Jaime Laude, Michelle Zoleta