MANILA - A Philippine senator on Tuesday said the 45th year of the establishment of diplomatic ties between her country and China is a good time for Manila to engage Beijing constructively amid lingering conflicts over the South China Sea.
Reacting to Philippine foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.'s description of the two countries' relationship as having "flowered into a new partnership for mutual profit and progress" under the Duterte administration, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she is not discounting the possibility of another set of conflicts emerging.
"In any relationship, when it flourishes, it's also possible that new kinds of conflict may arise. And therefore, we must be bold enough and honest enough to recognize and address and try to resolve these conflicts," Hontiveros told ANC's Headstart.
“This year is really a very good year, despite our health and economic challenges, to engage China constructively with pride in our pagka-Pilipino (in being Filipinos)... because whether we like it or not, she is our biggest neighbor in the region, in this part of the oceans,” she added.
Hontiveros said "good friends" should not steal each other's territory, destroy each other's marine resources, and "not allow their companies doing business in the territory of their 'good friend' to evade paying taxes."
Aside from issues in the South China Sea, Hontiveros is also critical of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators that cater mostly to Chinese. Aside from unpaid taxes, she said the industry also bred such crimes as prostitution and trafficking in persons.
Hontiveros said "some of the conflicts" in the Philippines' "flourishing relationship with China in the past few years would really be around the narrative of the 9-dash-line and where the borders of China extend to" in the South China Sea.
"They seem to be eating into the Philippine territory- the West Philippine Sea," she said, which also violates the rights of Filipino fishermen who are prevented from "sharing in the progress" in those waters.
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.
US-based analyst Gregory Poling said in April that China has “steadily” increased its presence in disputed portions of the South China Sea while claimant countries grappled with the global pandemic.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led the filing of an arbitration case against China on the South China Sea in 2013, said the conservative estimate on the country's losses from 2014 when China started dredging for its illegal artificial island-making activities in the disputed waters and illegal fishing operations, up to this year is P231.7 billion.
The landmark artbitral award in 2016 that invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea also reprimanded Beijing for the marine environmental damage its reclamation activities had caused.
“It’s one thing that we demand payment from them, it’s another that they actually pay up,” said Hontiveros, who earlier called for China to pay for the environmental damages in the South China Sea so the Philippines could boost its response against the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year before spreading across the globe.
Hontiveros' Senate Resolution 369, filed in late April, urged the Philippine government's executive branch to exert legal and diplomatic pressure upon the Beijing to stop illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea and to pay reparation for the damages.
"In order to further express our opposition to the damage they are creating to our environment, to our fisherfolk, and to our national sovereignty, there are concrete steps we can continue to take. And one, for example, I'll file a resolution asking the Department of Education to include our marine history, including our narrative of the West Philippine sea in our curriculum,” Hontiveros said.
She is also mulling the inclusion of an item in the country's 2021 budget for the creation of a Bantay Dagat-like organization and a program for fisherfolk to capacitate them "to give immediate intelligence reports to the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard whenever there are Chinese incursions into parts of the Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea."
A "meeting with civil society organizations and individuals from other claimant countries" is also being planned "to forge people-to-people unity towards a common agreement in the South China Sea," she said.
Apart from the Philippines and China, other claimants in the South China Sea include Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.