MANILA - Several senators on Friday urged the national government to address the presence of missile-capable Chinese vessels near Palawan after a Filipino fishing boat was chased off the West Philippine Sea.
ABS-CBN News was aboard the said fishing boat when at least 3 Chinese patrol vessels warned the Filipino vessel to stay away from Ayungin Shoal, a resource-rich area within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Senators Richard Gordon and Aquilino Pimentel III said the Philippines needs to deploy more military personnel in the West Philippine Sea to protect the country's sovereignty as Chinese incursions continue in the disputed waters.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's EEZ in the South China Sea, almost all of which China claims despite a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling against it.
"We should also look into having more and increased level of military exercises with our allies to improve our defense capabilities," Gordon said.
"Send more patrols to monitor our EEZ in order to protect our economic rights to the resources in the area," Pimentel said in a text message to reporters.
"If necessary we, the Navy, Coast Guard, BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), PNP (Philippine National Police) Maritime [Group] should assist in securing Filipino fishermen who want to fish in the said areas," he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to file more diplomatic protests after the latest incident.
"As they swamp our waters with hundreds of militia vessels, we should bury them with diplomatic protests," Pangilinan said.
"We should likewise resume joint patrols with the US and Australian Navies under our respective treaty agreements," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III lauded the DFA's earlier efforts to call out China's continuous incursions and aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
"The DFA is already filing a protest. We support such a move and perhaps it is time we review our MDT and VFA options," Senate President Vicente Sotto said in a statement.
Sotto was referring to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), pacts between the Philippines and the United States - the world's strongest military force - that guarantee that one would come to the aid of the other in the event of external aggression.
In January 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to abrogate the VFA after the US canceled the 10-year visa of his ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.
Despite Duterte's threat to end the decades-long agreement, the Philippines has repeatedly postponed the abrogation of the pact that covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines.
"The VFA is kept hanging when a certain degree of certainty is needed in these crucial times," Gordon noted.
"We should consider concrete and immediate measures to address the threat to our country's sovereignty," he said.
The Duterte government should stop "kowtowing to China," opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.
The minority senator said she is "outraged" over the incident, noting that China is "desperately resorting to the threat of using deadly force."
"China is escalating to violence. We will never tolerate this barbarity in our seas," she said.
"This latest provocation only proves that China knows she can never win diplomatically or legally in our territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea," she said.
Hontiveros urged the Duterte administration to follow the example of neighboring Indonesia which has been "standing up to China" in disputed waters despite securing "satisfactory investments" and receiving COVID-19 vaccines from Asia's largest economy.
"Here in the Philippines, China’s investments have not materialized and the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines has been marred by major delays," she said.
"Nakakahiya (It's humiliating). It has also been infuriating to repeatedly hear statements from the highest office of our country that the Philippines and China will resolve issues because we are 'friends,'" she said.
"Anong klaseng kaibigan ang binabantaan ka ng armas?" she said, noting that China deployed a Type 22 Houbei missile boat to chase away a lone and unarmed Filipino fishing vessel.
(What kind of friend threatens you with arms?)
In 2016, an international arbitral court invalidated China's sweeping claims in the strategic waterway where some $3-billion worth of goods pass through annually.
China has disregarded the ruling and continue to build artificial islands in the disputed waters.
Before ascending to the presidency, Duterte said he would ride a jetski and plant a flag in one of the shoals in the West Philippines Sea. This has never happened.
Instead, he has turned to China for loans for his administration's massive infrastructure push.