West Philippine Sea should be major campaign issue in 2022: analyst

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2021 10:43 AM

Chinese vessels are seen on March 22, 2021 in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the "incursion" violates the Philippines' maritime rights as the vessels are encroaching into Manila's sovereign territory. Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA - The West Philippine Sea and the country's foreign policy towards China should be major campaign issues in the 2022 national elections, a security analyst said Thursday.

Speaking to ANC, international studies professor Renato De Castro stressed that such issues would affect future generations of Filipinos.

"That will be the challenge next year for the Filipino electorate, to choose a leader who would lead the country way into the 21st century, who, of course, has a clear eye view of China. Somebody who'll never say, 'I love China' and 'I want the Philippines to be a province of China,'" he said.

He added, "Somebody who will tell us [that] our goal way into the 21st century is to ensure an independent, sovereign Philippines where future generations of Filipinos could choose their friends and competitors."

China's expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, demarcated on maps by its so-called 9-dash line that covers the entirety of the resource-rich waters, is damaging to the Philippines, De Castro stressed.

"China's goal is detrimental to the Philippines' national interest. Eighty-five to 90 percent control of the South China Sea that will deprive future generations of Filipinos of the resources that we have in the West Philippine Sea," he said.

The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, a major trade route that is believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.

De Castro noted that the current administration had no clear policy on the West Philippine Sea, citing disconnect between President Rodrigo Duterte and line agencies.

"China will not listen to us because there's of course a vacuum at the top level. The top level simply doesn’t have any coherent policy regarding how these line agencies would have to do their task," he said.

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In the past weeks, the country's top diplomat and defense chief have demanded China to pull out its ships monitored to be in Philippine waters. Duterte did not speak about the issue until Monday.

In a televised public address Monday, Duterte said it would lead to war if the Philippines asserts its rights in areas being claimed by China in the West Philippine Sea.

He said he would only deploy military ships should China go after oil and mineral resources in the area.

"We do not send gray ships to --- mga war ships diyan --- na para ipakita lang natin sa Pilipino na maski na ilang balik natin doon, wala talagang mangyari because we are not in the possession of the sea. Sa kanila eh," Duterte said.

(We do not send gray ships to, war ships there, just to show something to Filipinos, but no matter how frequent we return there, nothing will happen because we are not in the possession of the sea. They have it.)

Beijing claims the South China Sea in entirety despite having no legal basis, as adjudged by the UN-backed arbitration court in 2016.