Initiatives to enforce West Philippine Sea arbitral ruling urged

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2022 11:31 PM

President Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr. delivers his speech during the 77th General Debate at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, September 20, 2022. Office of the Press Secretary
President Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr. delivers his speech during the 77th General Debate at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, September 20, 2022. Office of the Press Secretary

MANILA - Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman pressed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for initiatives to enforce the Philippines’ arbitration victory against China over the South China Sea.

Since 2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed 405 protests and diplomatic notes against China’s “illegal” activities on the West Philippine Sea, according to DFA’s budget sponsor at the House of Representatives, Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr.

An international court ruled in favor of Manila in 2016, declaring China’s expansive nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea invalid. Beijing has ignored the landmark ruling.

“China, being a superpower, will always bully someone that is small … but the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to assert the rights of Philippines over the West Philippine Sea … the best way to do it is do it by diplomatic protest … The DFA will not go to war, but file diplomatic protests,” Lagman said during the House plenary debates on DFA’s proposed 2023 budget.

“We could file a million diplomatic protests, but China will just throw that into the dustbin of Chinese arrogance and aggression … For not enforcing the arbitral decision in favor of the Philippines, every day we are surrendering not only inches of Philippine territory but hectarages of maritime resource-rich territory belonging to the Philippines … I am not satisfied with the answers of the distinguished sponsor,” Lagman asserted.

“I will not expect him to be satisfied, but if he has a proposal for us to be able to get the West Philippine Sea, I hope he can be able to tell me about that,” Abante replied.

“The initiative should come from the President of the Philippines and from the Department of Foreign Affairs, not from the opposition,” Lagman stressed.

He questioned the President’s pronouncement that the Philippines has “no territorial conflict” with China, even as China continues to “bully” Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

Abante explained that the Philippines’ sovereignty over its territory is “indisputable”, regardless of China’s claims. But Lagman said China’s aggression on the country’s disputed waters should be “confronted”.

“After China has rejected the United Nations arbitral decision adjudicating to the Philippines’ resource-rich areas in the West Philippine Sea, and rejecting the spurious claims of China, is the President correct that the Philippines has no territorial conflict with China?” Lagman asked.

“We call it indisputable sovereignty … Our sovereignty over our land is indisputable, it does not depend on any foreign state … that would like to claim it,” Abante replied.

"That claim of indisputable sovereignty compounds the problem of the President’s statement that we do not have any territorial conflict with China. After China has been annexing Philippine territory and building military facilities in the West Philippine Sea, is it correct for the President to say that we don’t have any territorial conflict with China? … After China keeps on bullying Filipino fisheren from fishing in our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, is it correct for the President to say that we don’t have any territorial conflict with China?” Lagman asked again.

“Of course, China is trying to claim that, but we do not recognize their claims … Irrespective of China’s claim, we consider all the disputed islands as under Philippine sovereignty,” Abante responded.

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The DFA, in a statement read by Abante, stressed that the Philippines is steadfast in upholding its sovereign rights over its territory even as it continues to explore ways to lessen tension and engage in friendly relations.

“The Philippines is steadfast in upholding its sovereignty, sovereign rights, security and national interest even as we continue to explore ways to lessen tensions, without prejudice to existing positions and engage in friendly relations and fruitful cooperation. The Philippines has taken a firm stand against China’s sustained and increasingly aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea and/or the South China Sea,” he read.

“When China is not only claiming, but annexing maritime territories of the Philippines that is a territorial conflict, which we should confront,” Lagman asserted.

JOINT EXPLORATION IN WPS

Two other lawmakers also disagreed on the interpretation of the constitutional limits to foreign ownership, as the DFA expressed openness to negotiate with investors, including China, in the joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 states that “the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations, or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.”

“Dapat ang isang corporation, or association ay at least 60% Filipino-owned. ‘Yan ang primary na kailangan ma-hurdle ng kahit sinong entity na gustong maging bahagi ng exploration, development o utilization ng ating natural resources,” Kabataan Party List Rep. Raoul Manuel said.

"For example, a single corporation, not a joint venture, a single corporation dito sa Pilipinas, para mag-invest ang isang foreign investor, kailangan maximum is 40%. And 60% ay pag-aari ng Pilipino. But right now, if I’m not mistaken, ayon sa Department of Foreign Affairs, what we are talking about is the totality of the foreign investment for the exploration," Nueva Ecija 2nd District Rep. Joseph Gilbert Violago, another DFA budget sponsor, countered.

The House of Representatives terminated on Monday the plenary debates on the proposed 2023 budget for the DFA.

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