Choose leaders who can defend West Philippine Sea, maritime law expert says

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2022 04:10 PM

A vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard sails close to the Philippines' BRP Malabrigo in the disputed Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on March 2, 2022. Courtesy: Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page/screengrab
A vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard sails close to the Philippines' BRP Malabrigo in the disputed Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on March 2, 2022. Courtesy: Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page/screengrab

MANILA — A maritime law expert on Sunday called on voters to elect to the presidency the candidate who has firm policies and positions in favor of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In an interview with ABS-CBN TeleRadyo, University of the Philippines (UP) professor Atty. Jay Batongbacal said that choosing a candidate who can defend the country’s rights to the WPS is important, as the president is a key official in forming Philippine foreign policy.

“Sana suriin nilang mabuti ‘yong mga postura, ‘yong iniisip, ‘yong kaisipan ng ating kandidato, at pumili sila ng kandidato na maninindigan para sa Pilipino at hindi lang magbibigay nang magbibigay doon sa China,” said Batongbacal, who is also the director the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

(I hope voters can look carefully into the stances and thoughts of our candidates, and ultimately choose someone who can stand for the Filipino and doesn’t just give what China wants.)

Batongbacal issued the statements after the March 2 incident in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, wherein a Chinese Coast Guard ship sailed dangerously close to a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.

He slammed the Duterte administration’s friendly pivot toward China, saying that nothing came out of it except for emboldening the Asian superpower into taking more of the Philippines’ territorial waters.

He also criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 campaign promise of riding a jet ski to defend the West Philippine Sea, saying that it can’t be used again in 2022.

“Please lang, bumenta na iyon. Huwag na tayong maniniwala doon sa ganoong klaseng mga pangako,” Batongbacal said.

(Please, that's an old promise. Let us not believe in promises like that.)

Batongbacal urged voters to seriously consider the West Philippine Sea issue into choosing who to vote for president in the May 9 elections, as the fate of the country’s territorial waters will affect generations to come.

“’Yon pong ating mga apo, at apo ng ating mga apo ang siyang magiging apektado nito, lalo na kung iyang [West Philippine Sea] ay mawawala sa atin,” he said.

(Our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be affected by this, especially if we lose the West Philippine Sea.)

He explained that the fate of the West Philippine Sea will determine the country’s food supply as well as the future of its indigenous energy sources.

The WPS, Batongbacal said, accounts for 27 percent of the national fish supply.

He noted that among the presidential candidates, Vice President Leni Robredo’s approach to the WPS issue is the most “comprehensive.”

Robredo earlier said that she would use the “instruments of national power” approach to address the issue of the West Philippine Sea, using diplomatic, informational, military, and economic strategies.

Batongbacal also took note of Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s and labor leader Leody De Guzman’s “diplomacy” platforms in dealing with China, highlighting the importance of collaborating with Southeast Asian neighbors and “middle powers” like Japan and Australia.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso’s platform of intensifying military presence in the WPS, he added, must also be paired with increased civilian presence such as fisherfolk.

Batongbacal pointed out that while former Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ approach of talks with China is plausible, there must be a clear objective in this and not simply doing talks “for the sake of talking.”

“Hindi enough ‘yung sasabihin mong makikiusap ka… At by experience, nakipag-usap na ‘yung nauna sa iyo, eh wala namang nangyari,” he said.

(Just talking is not enough. And by experience, your predecessor already did that to no avail.)

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