âChina owes us an explanation': Senators flag Beijing law allowing coast guard to fire on foreign ships
A Philippine coast guard ship sails past a Chinese coast guard ship during an joint search and rescue exercise between Philippine and US coastguards near Scarborough or Panatag shoal, May 2019.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

‘China owes us an explanation': Senators flag Beijing law allowing coast guard to fire on foreign ships

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - January 26, 2021 - 6:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — Breaking with messaging from the Palace and the country's top diplomat, Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said China must justify to the Philippines a new law allowing its coast guard to fire on ships in disputed waters.

"Our fisheries have been taken from us, our people have been deprived of their livelihood, and I think China owes us an explanation [on] what its true intentions are," he said during a plenary session at the Senate on Tuesday.

"This is something that we must not let pass...when another country claims the oceans surrounding us [and] even threatens to demolish our fishing boats or the fishing boats of any country that somehow get into that [sea]."

Draft wording of China's Coast Guard Law empowers it to use "all necessary means" to counteract threats from foreign vessels, per a report from Reuters. The law, which was passed last week and takes effect on February 1, also allows members of the Chinese coast guard to destroy structures built by foreign countries on reefs claimed by Beijing and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.

Gordon said the law is "a serious cause for concern" and "a shot in the bow of all the claimants in the [disputed] territories." Sen. Francis Tolentino similarly called the move alarming, noting that some Filipino fishermen may be unaware of the law and how soon it will take effect.

Beijing has long refused to acknowledge an arbitral ruling that junks its claims over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.

Both Malacañang and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., however, have ruled out diplomatic action on the matter, stressing that China is free to pass any law it chooses, even one that might be enforced in waters claimed and rightfully awarded to the Philippines.

Executive session proposed

But Gordon is seeking answers from Locsin, citing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent visit to the Philippines. "I would like to know what [Wang] discussed with the president or [Secretary Locsin]."

"[Are we] just going to turn the other cheek or just quietly accept what is? [The law] is a creeping threat that I think can escalate at any time," Gordon said.

READ: Locsin lauds Manila-Beijing ties on Chinese foreign minister’s third official visit to Philippines  

He also called on the Senate to act on the matter, proposing an executive session with officials determining policy in the disputed territories.

Through these executive sessions, Gordon said, the Senate can make the necessary appropriations such as "facilitating, expediting, and speeding up... submarines to be operated by the Philippine Navy and...land-based missiles."

"I am saying this if only to wake everybody up from the stupor that we are being led to believe," he emphasized. "We have a Chinese neighbor who has been kind to us...but...has threatened us and has even threatened to acquire our own claims...and is now going to threaten a very volatile atmosphere in these areas."

Hontiveros and Sen. Francis Pangilinan earlier slammed the Chinese law, stressing that the Philippines must not be cowed by China's infringement on its sovereignty.

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