MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday criticized Malacañang's decision to continue several projects involving Chinese firms that allegedly took part in illegal reclamation activities in the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines - including its territorial seas - belongs to the Filipinos and the country must make its stand clear, Hontiveros said in a series of tweets. The Philippines calls the portion of the South China Sea it is claiming as West Philippine Sea.
"Nakakadismaya (This is disappointing). We need to investigate these deals. We need to protect our national interest," she said.
"Kung hindi malinaw sa ibang bansa ang ating posisyon, magmumukhang di rin tayo seryoso sa ating paggiit sa ating mga teritoryo," she said.
(If our position on the issue is unclear to other countries, it will seem like we are not serious in asserting our claim in the disputed territories.)
China has reclaimed and militarized a number of features in the South China Sea, and rejected the 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims there.
It continues to control some features adjudged to be part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Hontiveros earlier said that China's construction activities in the West Philippine Sea has resulted into some P200-billion worth of marine damage.
"That belongs to us. Malaking pera ito na makakatulong sa ating bansa lalo na sa gitna ng pandemya," the opposition senator said.
(It is a big amount that can help the country especially in the middle of the pandemic.)
Several groups have repeatedly called on the government to withdraw projects with at least 24 Chinese companies that were reportedly involved in reclamation activities in the disputed waters.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said that President Rodrigo Duterte chose to keep the deals because the Philippines "needs investors from China."
Before being elected as president in 2016, Duterte promised to ride a jetski to one of the China-built artificial islands to assert the country's claim in the area.
But after ascending to power, he forged closer ties with China in exchange for loans and investments for his administration's massive infrastructure push. He also shelved the landmark arbitration award.