MANILA — The country's top leaders should be united in the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea, as "bickering" among themselves is a "weakness China could exploit," Senator Panfilo Lacson said Saturday.
The senator's statement came as President Rodrigo Duterte and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio clashed this week over the reason China was able to seize some features in the disputed waters despite the arbitral win in 2016 in The Hague.
Beijing disregards a 2016 ruling of the award that junked its "historical" claims to almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"The Philippines’ top leaders must come up with a united stand on the West Philippine Sea issue instead of bickering, lest it exposes a weakness that China can exploit," the statement from his office read.
“Ang irony nito at nakakalungkot, sa halip na magtulong-tulong tayong mga Pilipino, especially mga leaders, tayo pa nag-aaway-away sa usaping West Philippine Sea. Dapat iisa ang position natin. Yan ang nagpapakita ng weakness natin sa China," Lacson was quoted as saying in a radio interview.
(The sad irony is that instead of coming up with a united front, we – especially our leaders – are bickering on the issue. What we need is a united position. Otherwise, we are just showing our weakness, one that China could exploit.)
He added that the vaccines that China donated should not be highlighted in the maritime dispute, as the two issues "should not be connected."
Beijing had donated some 1 million COVID-19 shots to the country, which Carpio alleged as a way of "softening the blow" of seizing the Philippines' territories in its waters.
Duterte responded by saying he would not order Philippine ships away from the West Philippine Sea.
“Dapat magsimula tayo na nagkakaisa tayo na dapat ipaglaban natin ang ating sovereignty and territorial integrity. Dapat walang kinalaman ang bakuna sa usaping territorial integrity and national sovereignty," Lacson said.
(Our stand must start with upholding our sovereignty and territorial integrity. Vaccines have nothing to do with this issue),
"Dapat walang kinalaman ang dalawa (The two should not be connected)"
MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY
The senator said the country should strengthen its ties with allies "to maintain a balance of power in the region."
He noted the United States' willingness to help the country through the Mutual Defense Treaty but the country should still make the initiative.
“The US has indicated it is bound by our Mutual Defense Treaty but it is the Philippines that must make the initiative. The US cannot be more aggressive than we are in the disputed area,” he said.
Several senators have also voiced their concerns on China's incursions in Philippine waters, saying the country would need the help of the international community to send a stronger statement against Asia's largest economy.
The Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in late April conducted maritime drills in the disputed areas, even as Chinese ships have been sighted there since early March.
The deployment of additional vessels and aircraft in the area aims to intensify operations against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and to "increase safety of life at sea operations", a government task force said.