MANILA - The Duterte administration's effort to assert the landmark 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea has been wanting, a lawmaker said Thursday.
"I do not really say it was a mistake but there was not much effort to do so. But now because of the incursion of the Chinese government, basically China, in our West Philippine Sea, that's why we are now trying really to exercise our rights," Negros Oriental 2nd District Rep. Manuel Sagarbarria told ANC.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating its historical nine-dash line claim. China has refused to honor the ruling, instead ramping up island-building and militarization activities in the waters
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, a major trade route that is believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.
Sagarbarria, who chairs the House special committee on the West Philippine Sea, said there are 2 proposed measures in the House that aim to protect the country's maritime territory amid Chinese incursions.
First, House Bill 8018 seeks to establish sea lanes in the country's archipelagic waters, which will set limits on the entry and passage of foreign ships and aircraft, he said.
A measure that will declare and define maritime zones under the country's jurisdiction also remain pending in Congress, he added.
"These 2 bills are going to be the ones that will determine for our government to exercise our rights over the West Philippine Sea as a whole," the lawmaker said.
Sagarbarria also bared they had yet to receive a report from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea about the swarm of Chinese ships across the country's EZZ.
"I read it through the papers but not officially coming from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea... We are planning to have a report on this coming May when we go back after our recess," he said.
On Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed 2 diplomatic protests against China over the presence of some 240 Chinese ships across the West Philippine Sea, including their remaining vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had denied allegations the vessels are part of Beijing's militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, earlier pointed out that the ships have remained despite fair weather in the area.
Since assuming office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has forged friendlier ties with China, shelving the maritime disputes in favor of economic aid and investments from the world's second largest economy.
— with reports from Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News