MANILA - Two senators on Tuesday said the Philippines needs the help of its allies and the international community to send a stronger statement against the lingering presence of China's maritime militia vessels in Philippine waters.
In a statement, Sen. Panfilo Lacson pointed out that filing diplomatic protests might "not be too helpful anymore" because China continues to ignore them.
This circumstance earlier led Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to consider a "demarche" or a political step, especially after China said the that Julian Felipe Reef, which falls under the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea is part of its territory.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's EEZ within the South China Sea, 90 percent of which China claims as its own, asserting historical rights despite a July 2016 UN tribunal ruling invalidating its expansive claim.
At least 40 Chinese vessels remained in the reef as of Saturday, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
"While it is a standard document used to call the attention of the other party, China's consistent attitude of taking for granted such action taken by the [Department of Foreign Affairs] reduces it to a mere point of information," said Lacson.
The senator noted that it would be difficult for China to ignore the calls if the country's allies stood together on the matter to maintain peace and stability in the region.
"Perhaps China would not be so dismissive if we and our allies, both in the Asia-Pacific and the west, show we can band together to maintain a balance of power in the region, including the West Philippine Sea.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros echoed Lacson and urged the DFA to "take immediate action and champion diplomatic initiatives" with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The "greed for territory and power" of Asia's largest economy had led to "unilateral and aggressive" military expansion in the South China Sea, she said, which violates international law.
“The ASEAN should stand together against China’s bullying. We should put our differences aside and work towards the common goal of opposing unfounded and over-ambitious Chinese territorial claims in the region," Hontiveros said.
"If ASEAN does not adopt a common stand on the South China Sea, we cannot safeguard our shared interests."
The opposition senator also said the country should strengthen its relationship with ASEAN member states, noting that the coalition is "the best way of assuring our territorial integrity" and peace.
Sen. Richard Gordon on Saturday also expressed his frustration, recalling how Chinese vessels have supposedly harassed and threatened the country's coast guard and fishermen in the disputed waters.
It is time, Gordon said, for some action to be done which includes seeking help from "stronger allies before it is too late."
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have also criticized China's continuing incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo earlier said that China's charity on COVID-19 vaccines does not mean the Philippines is ignoring the issue on the reef. He said the government would be "fiercely protective" of the country's territory.
The Philippine has so far received 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac, a million of which were donated.
China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea had been declared as having no legal basis by an international arbitration court in 2016.