Hontiveros calls for policy on territory, heritage issues surrounding West Philippine Sea
This Jan. 1, 2018 satellite image shows China's installations on Fiery Cross or Kagitingan Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Hontiveros calls for policy on territory, heritage issues surrounding West Philippine Sea

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - June 8, 2020 - 2:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday called for policy that would address the maritime territory and heritage issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea. 

"It is clear that we have a lot that we must, and can, do. Enough of feigning ignorance, inaction, and lying. We can lose more than just territory — we can lose our heritage and dignity…we must not let our sovereignty wither and die on the altar of political accommodation,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

Hontiveros said this during a webinar on Philippine sovereignty with former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug, and Al Jazeera correspondent Jamela Alindogan. 

Vitug, who also wrote “Rock Solid”— a book about how the Philippines won its maritime case against China— advocated for laws that would ensure the further education of citizens on the Philippines as a maritime country and its ownership of the West Philippine Sea. 

“This should be part of the curriculum of DepEd. It has to be institutionalized in our education system,” she said. 

Former Justice Carpio added that there is a need to educate the youth as they would continue the struggle for the West Philippine Sea. 

“This will not be solved in our generation; it may be solved in succeeding generations. So we must have a good database of our arguments. All our research must be put in one place to be accessed by future generations of Filipinos,” he said. 

A voter issue 

The forum’s speakers added that the government’s handling of the territorial dispute should be an issue at the forefront of voter’s minds in the next election. 

"In 2022, we must vote for a government that will assert and fight for our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said. 

Vitug voiced her agreement, saying she believed the dispute should be a campaign issue in 2022. 

Carpio criticized the current administration for “having no strategic plan,” and instead choosing to freeze the arbitral ruling. 

He also warned against China’s recent moves to further advance on Philippine territory amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was reported in May that China built several installations along Philippine-claimed reefs. 

Carpio said these recent moves were in line with China’s long-term plan which they have unwaveringly implemented. 

"We have to take this plan very seriously because China wants to make the nine-dash line as its national boundary. And we would be left with a sliver of water as our territorial sea and exclusive economic zone. We will lose a maritime area larger than our total land area,” he warned. 

China advances 'unchecked' 

In May, government-funded Chinese Academy of Sciences launched two research stations on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) and Subi Reefs in Spratly Islands to “help scientists expand their research into deep sea ecology, geology, environment, material sciences and marine energy,” state-run Xinhua reported.

It added that the research stations would also be "monitoring ecological and seismic changes in key regions of the South China Sea.” 

Manila claims the Subi Reef and Fiery Cross, which are 100km and 24 km off Palawan, respectively, as part of the West Philippine Sea.

These areas are two of Beijing's “big three” militarized islands in the Spratlys. 

China transformed Subi Reef into a fortified airbase in 2017.

Its state-sponsored think tank also has a research center installed in Mischief Reef, which is considered a part of Philippine territory. 

Hundreds of Chinese ships have also been reported  in the area of Pag-asa island which is under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan. It is also one of the biggest features occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week said he does not believe there is a threat of attack on Pag-asa or any of the other eight Spratly islands under Philippine control. He added that the department is not planning to bolster the defense of the island. 

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