Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday slammed the Philippine government for not taking a tough stance on the West Philippine Sea, despite a victory in The Hague that invalidated China’s massive claims in the disputed waters.
“We soften our stance on the West Philippine Sea to avoid conflict, but the conflict we seem to be scared of is already at our doors. Our fisherfolk are physically restrained with guns, ammunitions, ships, and intimidation, to prevent them from fishing in waters that have already been affirmed as part of our Philippine territory,” she said in a forum on the West Philippine Sea held at UP Diliman.
“Ironically, however, our own government continues to call the West Philippine Sea as ‘disputed’ waters and the Philippines as a ‘claimant’, seemingly ignoring the fact that the arbitral tribunal has already ruled in our favor,” she added.
The previous administration filed a historic case against China in 2012 in the international court over the Asian superpower’s massive claims in the South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016, a few weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.
But President Rodrigo Duterte did not bring up the ruling in an apparent favor for economic gains from China.
Robredo, while pushing the government to assert its rights, clarified that she is not advocating for war with China or any country.
“We must pursue all diplomatic means to ensure that our relationships with our neighboring countries remain smooth, and there is reason to believe that this will work. The solution has never been a binary choice between surrender or war; it entails a multilateral effort anchored in diplomacy,” she said.
Robredo also voiced out her concern on the plight of fishermen supposedly harassed by Chinese Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.
“Seeing the pain that our fisherfolk go through as they work hard for something that they might not even be able to bring home at the end of a hard day’s work breaks our hearts, especially as we celebrate Independence Day tomorrow. Nobody deserves that, least of all our fishermen. Our country doesn’t deserve that,” she said.
The Vice President also urged the Philippine government ‘to keep a watchful eye’ on its loans from China as it may later come with consequences.
“Yes, our growing economy needs financing, but we need to remember that none of these financing mechanisms are worthy of giving up our sovereignty. And this requires the watchful eye of each and every one of us,” she said.
Robredo explained that the Philippines is not only bound to lose a group of atolls in the West Philippine Sea in the ongoing dispute.
“What is being stolen is our comfort in knowing that we can sleep soundly at night, certain that we are secure from external threats and weapons of war. What is being stolen are our resources, electricity, food, and jobs for our people. The issues we face when it comes to the West Philippine Sea are not only about our fishermen; it is about every living Filipino and the generations to come. It is about our nation’s independence, security, and sovereignty,” she said.
“We understand that speaking up against a major global superpower is intimidating and scary. By size, by head count, by influence, or by military strength, the Philippines may seem very small and insignificant. But our people are not… We cannot hand over our sovereignty just because we are afraid. We must assert our claim on the West Philippine Sea, but that means each of us must stand united, so that we can fight for what is ours,” she said. /ee
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