MANILA- Vice President Leni Robredo urged Filipinos on Thursday to protest China's militarization in the West Philippine Sea.
Robredo made the statement as the country marked the second anniversary of its landmark 2016 victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated China's sweeping nine-dash line claim to the waters.
"This is the time for us to peacefully protest any effort to limit or control movement in these waters. As neighbors and friends, we must stand in opposition to military build-ups in the West Philippine Sea," she said in a forum.
China has since ignored the ruling and recently stepped up its militarization efforts in the disputed waters, installing military-grade runways, hangars, hardened storage for ammunition, and retractable roofs for anti-cruise missiles, prompting the Philippines to beef up its force in the area.
Robredo also recalled how reports about members of the Chinese Coast Guard taking Filipino fishermen's catch "breaks our hearts."
"Nobody deserves that, least of all our fishermen. Our country doesn’t deserve that. No country does," she said.
The Vice President said Philippines has "lost" the advantage of the arbitral ruling since it was handed down in 2016 and suggested that Manila seek the help of neighboring Southeast Asian nations with claims in the South China Sea as well.
"We must explore the possibilities for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and other means of regional cooperation in ways we have never done before," she said.
"It is imperative that we engage with each other in the spirit of fostering trust, in the face of various claims in the region," she added.
Aside from the Philippines, other member-states of ASEAN such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia have conflicting claims in the disputed waters with China.
Earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Manila had filed "several dozens" of protests against China, "maybe 50, 100."
He also said that protests come in many forms, such as filing a note verbale, listing complaints through the bilateral consultation mechanism between the Philippines and China, and President Duterte telling Chinese President Xi Jinping "that is mine and don't get the oil."
The Philippines and China in May have agreed to "properly manage" disputes in the West Philippine Sea by engaging in dialogue and negotiations to address issues in the disputed waters.