MANILA- Minority senators on Thursday asked the Philippine government to use the country's chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year to get the support of its neighboring countries for Manila's arbitral victory.
Senators Bam Aquino, Franklin Drilon, Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes IV said the government should enforce the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which favored the Philippines and invalidated China's nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea.
"The government, in behalf of the Filipino people, and especially our fisherfolk, should enforce this decision so that our fisherfolk can go back to this maritime space and fish," the senators said in a joint statement.
"We suggest that the government use its ASEAN chairmanship to rally our allies and friends to this end -- for our people, for our fisherfolk," they added.
The senators' statement came after Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte halted the construction of huts for Filipino fishermen on disputed sandbars last August, averting a possible standoff with China.
Lorenzana said the President's decision was made after China complained that the Philippines was violating an agreement not to build new features.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, meanwhile, said Beijing has "no acceptable basis" to react negatively towards Manila's planned construction since the sandbars were located around 2.5 miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.
"The Philippines did not violate the Declaration of Conduct. The planned construction in Sandy Cay was not a new occupation by the Philippines. In fact, the sandbars have traditionally been under effective control of the Philippine troops," he said in a statement.
Alejano also criticized the President's decision, saying the current administration has been "downplaying the situation in the West Philippine Sea while China continues to push us into the corner."
"I hope that the administration would now realize the importance and urgency of asserting the favorable ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration issued in July 2016. There could not be any more proper time to stress it than now. We do not want to waste time that we could use to peacefully strengthen our claims," he said.
Meanwhile, a former military intelligence chief is calling for a "win-win" solution for the Philippines and China with respect to disputes over the South China Sea.
Retired Gen. Victor Corpus suggested that both countries agree to shelve their claims and engage in joint exploration of mineral resources in the waters, arguing that while the Philippines won the case against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, it would lead to a "strategic defeat" since Manila still cannot drill in the area.
"We cannot adopt a win-lose strategy," Corpus said at the Pandesal Forum on Thursday.
Corpus, who once headed the Philippine military's intelligence service, proposed that China make the Philippines part of its modern maritime silk road and develop the Cagayan Economic Zone as a "maritime hub" for China's eastern coast and serve as gateway for other countries.
Corpus also backed the proposal of former Education Undersecretary Butch Valdes for the Philippines to initiate a global peace summit to address regional disputes.
Corpus said the timing is right to bring "warring factions" North Korea, South Korea and their allies to the Philippines to talk.
"We can bring them together na ang referee si Presidente because, for the first time in history, we have an independent foreign policy," Corpus said.
Several state leaders will convene in Manila next week for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings, including United States President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
-with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News