More Senate hopefuls want PH to stand up against China over West PH Sea issue

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 03 2021 01:41 AM | Updated as of Dec 03 2021 02:47 AM

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MANILA — The Philippines must continue to pursue its claims and assert its sovereignty in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea with the help of other governments, some Senate aspirants said.

During TeleRadyo's special program "Sino SENyo?" on Thursday, 4 Senate hopefuls in next year's polls said the country should exercise its rights in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea, the country's EEZ, despite China's military aggression and intimidation in the area.

The program's participants included former senator Antonio "Sonny Trillanes of the Liberal Party, former representative Neri Colmenares of Makabayan, former senator JV Ejercito of National the People's Coalition, and environmental activist David D'Angelo of Partido Lakas ng Masa.

They noted there was a 2016 ruling by a UN-backed court that invalidated China's expansive economic claims in the West Philippine Sea, emphasizing that Manila should be more assertive about its sovereignty in the area.

Colmenares slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's known narrative on the issue, who for the most part of his term refused to assert the 2016 arbitral ruling. The Chief Executive has reasoned out that he does not want war with China.

"Nanalo tayo eh, astang talo tayo. Alam mo ang problema dito ni President Duterte, hindi totoo 'yung sinasabi niyang 'wag nating igiit 'yan kasi lulusubin tayo ng Tsina. E ang Vietnam, bawat kibot ng Tsina diyan sa South China Sea, binibira ng Vietnam. Alam nila na di sila pwede lusubin kasi katulong ng Vietnam diyan ang buong international community," he said.

Colmenares stressed the Philippines should benefit from the resource-rich South China Sea, saying the country can do this by uniting countries being bullied by China in the hotly contested waters such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

"Gather international community support kasi ayaw nilang controlled ng Tsina ang South China Sea," he said, adding the Philippines can demand demilitarization in the area through the UN.

Trillanes, a former military official and outspoken critic of Duterte, said dealing with China starts with the President as the "sole architect of foreign policy". He pushed for harnessing support from other countries, particularly through the UN and ASEAN.

He also called on strengthening further Manila's Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Washington.

"Sila (United States) 'yung counter pole e," he said.

Appointed by the late former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III as a backroom negotiator of Manila with Beijing on the conflict over Scarborough Shoal in 2012, Trillanes also suggested that the Philippines can join the "Freedom of Navigation" operations being conducted in the South China Sea by the US and its allies to counter Chinese aggression. 

He also urged government to hasten the modernization of the country's military equipment and capability.

D'Angelo, meanwhile, also called for talks with other claimants being pushed around by China to unite against the superpower, while Ejercito said the Philippines should "exhaust all diplomatic means, but fight for territorial sovereignty at all cost."

The South China Sea issue has been a hot topic among Filipino electoral candidates since China occupied Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Last month, tensions over the hotly contested waters spiked after Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at boats trying to deliver supplies to Filipino marines stationed in BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Experts have warned Filipino security forces to be vigilant against a possible attempt by Beijing to take advantage of the country’s electoral transition in 2022 to change the status quo that may lead to occupation and conversion of maritime territories by China.

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