âWe are not inutile as a countryâ â senators
The lawmakers lamented Duterte’s statement in his State of the Nation Address that he was “inutile” in asserting the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea as he could not risk war with China, which has already built militarized artificial islands in Philippine waters.
Geremy Pintolo, file
‘We are not inutile as a country’ — senators
Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is not “inutile” in asserting its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea even if President Duterte has admitted being helpless in checking China’s maritime encroachment, senators said yesterday.

The lawmakers lamented Duterte’s statement in his State of the Nation Address that he was “inutile” in asserting the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea as he could not risk war with China, which has already built militarized artificial islands in Philippine waters.

“We are not inutile as a country. We belong to the community of nations and we are all bound by the rule of law that is internationally recognized. There lies our strength,” said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security.

He said Duterte’s pronouncement recalls Sun Tzu’s Art of War, from which he quoted: “Being weak is weakness enough but to let our adversary know how helpless we are will discourage even our allies to stand by our side.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto stressed the government must always maintain the position “to strongly assert our legal rights over West Philippine Sea and to pursue the same diplomatically.”

Sen. Richard Gordon felt Duterte was “raising China too much” and was probably overly stressing the spectre of war in the South China Sea.

“I feel hurt when he (Duterte) said that – that we don’t have arms and all – but we don’t have to go to war, we can still assert our rights,” Gordon told reporters via videoconference.

“I don’t know why he has to ingratiate himself to China all the time,” he said, adding maybe Duterte was acting that way to get a “discount” for the COVID-19 vaccine that is reportedly being developed in China.

He stressed Duterte must not concede Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is just about 125 nautical miles from Zambales, but is now constantly ringed by Chinese coast guard vessels.

The Philippines must also not be afraid of conducting joint military exercises with the US, Japan or India in its waters, the senator said.

“I don’t know what his strategy is, but if you’re being bullied, you must stand up to that bully or else the more you will be bullied,” Gordon warned. He said Duterte can “play with China” but he must not show his cards.


Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of the minority bloc, said Duterte’s “subservience and surrender to China is detestable, unacceptable.”

“He does not speak for me and many other Filipinos who see in this defeatist attitude cowardice towards the aggressor,” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said he was not surprised by Duterte’s pronouncements, as “we already knew from the start he leaned towards China and wants a nonconfrontational stance.”

He said Duterte’s SONA pronouncements on the West Philippine Sea may not be that worrisome “so long as we do not abrogate or renounce any of our rights under international law, including the legal victory” at The Hague in 2016.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, said Duterte’s pronouncements must be seen in the light of the actions of the members of his Cabinet, like Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who has been taking a strong stance against Beijing at every appropriate opportunity.

Sotto said he interpreted Duterte’s remarks as just trying to be nice to a heavily armed neighbor. But the President could have used a better word than inutile, he added.

“Delivering a formal address is not one of the strengths of the President. He’s more adept in speaking extemporaneously,” he said.

No possession

Former Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, for his part, has contradicted President Duterte’s claim in his fifth SONA that China has “possession” over the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“The President should not say that China is in possession of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea because factually China is not in possession,” Carpio said in a statement.

“Naval powers like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan and Canada regularly sail in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, proving that China is not in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

The retired justice also pointed out that there was no need for the Philippines to go to war against China just to assert its sovereign rights.

He pointed out that neighboring countries Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are also asserting their sovereign rights without bringing up a scenario of war with China.

“A country does not need to go to war to assert its sovereign rights. There are lawful and peaceful means of asserting sovereign rights. War is not even an option because the United Nations Charter outlaws resort to war to settle territorial or maritime disputes,” he said.

“Moreover, the Philippine Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy, which means the Philippines cannot go to war to enforce the arbitral ruling,” Carpio added.

In his penultimate SONA, Duterte had said he could not afford to go to war with China. “China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it. So, it’s as simple as that. They are in possession of the property… so what can we do?”

Since the Philippines is not prepared to go to war with China, “diplomatic endeavor” would be a better option for addressing maritime issues, according to Duterte.

The Chief Executive’s declaration of helplessness has sparked widespread condemnation and outrage.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague issued a ruling on July 12, 2016 on a case filed by Manila, invalidating China’s massive claim in the South China Sea and reaffirming the Philippines’ own maritime entitlements.

Meanwhile, in a speech at a Webinar organized by the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and Center for Philippine Studies of Jinan University on Monday, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said China-Philippines relations have been moving along an upward trajectory toward a New Golden Age under the leadership of President Duterte and President Xi Jinping.

Huang also emphasized the two countries having set aside their differences over territorial issues.

Duterte admitted in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday that he was “inutile” and “cannot do anything” against China’s bullying in the South China Sea despite a ruling by an international Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 ruling that invalidated China’s “historic rights” to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Huang claimed globalization and regional cooperation are under threat from aggressive moves by a “superpower,” which he did not name but is apparently the United States.

He also cited the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global economy and on the livelihood of ordinary people.

“On top of that, some superpower is wantonly bossing around to stir up rivalry and geopolitical tensions. In light of the pandemic and evolving regional situation, we have to address arising challenges to further grow China-Philippines relations,” Huang said. – Pia Lee-Brago, Ding Cervantes

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