MANILA - Vice President Leni Robredo lamented "missed opportunities" as the country marked the fifth anniversary of its arbitral victory invalidating China's economic claim over the West Philippine Sea.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued a “unanimous award” to the Philippines, which had sought clarity on its rights to exploit its exclusive economic zone, portions of which are claimed by China.
"Since then, national leadership has yet to fully flex the ruling as an instrument to pursue our national interests, failing to invoke it in strong enough terms in the forums that matter most. Our fisherfolk remain unable to enter areas that have been the source of livelihood for generations of Filipinos," Robredo said in a statement.
"Alliances that could have been strengthened were allowed to erode, while those who bully their way into our waters have been treated with deference, and at times, subservience. The dream of a regional architecture founded on respect and mutual prosperity has become even more elusive."
The Vice President added that the arbitral ruling "cannot be erased from the history books, and cannot be denied despite the unending lies spewed forth by a formidable machinery of disinformation."
"Today’s commemoration is a reminder, a challenge, and a promise: That if only we can remember, if only we can unite, if only we can rediscover our spirit and once again stand for what is right— we will find, beneath the rubble of cowardice and neglect, our courage, our dignity, and our national pride," she said.
"Filing the case before the tribunal— standing up for what is right, against the economic and military might of a world power— yielded the admiration and respect of the entire world."
Robredo, during her weekly radio show Sunday, interviewed a fisherman from Masinloc town in Zambales who recalled his experience of harassment from the Chinese Coast Guard.
"Tuwing madaling araw, umaakyat po sila sa bangka namin, hinahalungkay nila ang isdang huli namin. Tapos, lahat ng magagandang isda, kinukuha nila. Pagkatapos, palitan na lang po nila ng isang Maggi at isang boteng alak," Ernie Egana told the Vice President.
(Every midnight, they would go to our boat and rummage through our catch. They would get all good fish, and then will give us instant noodles and one bottle of alcoholic drink.)
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier called the arbitral award as a mere piece of paper that he will throw in the wastebasket.
He had pursued friendlier ties with China despite its repeated incursions in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for investments, infrastructure funding and most recently, vaccine supply.
The President has since said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from disputed waters after he drew flak over his remark that his campaign promise for fishermen in disputed seas was a joke.
China continues to ignore the arbitration court's ruling and has ramped up its militarization in the disputed sea.