Presidential bets vow to enforce Philippines' arbitral award

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Presidential bets vow to enforce Philippines' arbitral award
In this undated handout photo received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on April 25, 2021, coast guard personnel conduct maritime exercise near Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea.
Handout / Philippine coast Guard (PCG) / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — Four presidential aspirants for the May 2022 elections agreed to enforce the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

In an interview with GMA News' Jessica Soho Saturday night, Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen. Ping Lacson, Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno shared their thoughts on the issue and how they were going to convince China to abide by the landmark ruling.

Robredo: Form coalition of nations

For Robredo, the Philippines should leverage the award to form a "coalition of nations" to block China's militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

The vice president pointed out that the country has support from the international community due to the arbitral ruling.

"Ang armas natin 'yung ating pinanalunan and sa atin eto 'yung armas natin para mahikayat 'yung ibang bansa na tulungan tayo, magkaisa sa atin para sabay-sabay natin harangin 'yung ginagawang pagsakop ng ating teritoryo," Robredo said.

(Our weapon is what we won and for us, this is our weapon to persuade other countries to help us, unite with us so that we can altogether block the encroachment in our territory.)

Lacson: Strengthen alliances

Noting that the arbitral ruling is permanent, Lacson said a balance of power is needed in the West Philippine Sea.

The senator suggested strengthening military alliances with strong countries like the United States, European Union countries, Japan and Australia.

"I-capitalize natin 'yung national interest ng iba't ibang bansa dahil kailangan din nila sa freedom of navigation. D'yan dumadaan 'yung 10% to 12% ng international trade so dun tayo kumuha ng lakas kasi hindi natin kayang harapin ang Tsina rito," Lacson said.

(Let us capitalized the national interest of various countries because they also need freedom of navigation. That's where 10% to 12% of international trade goes so let's get strengthe because we can't face China here.)

Pacquiao: More dialogue

Boxer-turned-senator Pacquiao stressed the need to assert the country's sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, suggesting more dialogue with concerned parties.

"Hindi naman tayo pwede rin magpa-bully at kailangan din pag-usapan kung ano 'yung problema kasi hindi po naresolba ang problema sa isang pag-uusap o dalawang pag-uusap lalong lalo na sa usapin nitong West Philippine Sea," Pacquiao said.

(We cannot be bullied and we need to talk about the problem because the issue cannot be resolved in one or two dialogues, especially in the issue of the West Philippine Sea.)

What Pacquiao missed is that the Philippines and China have been holding a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea for the past years. The sixth meeting was conducted virtually in May 2021.

In addition to this, the Philippines also served as country coordinator between China and ASEAN countries as they negotiate on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Moreno: Deploy armed forces

Moreno, meanwhile, vowed that he will make sure that there is "presence of our armed forces" in the area if he becomes president.

While the Manila mayor admitted that China will not acknowledge the arbitral award, he said he will make sure that Filipino fishermen can still fish the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

"Hindi na lalawak pa kung anuman 'yung mga nakuha nila habang binabawi natin 'yung mga nakuha na nila. Hindi na sila makalalawak," Moreno said.

(Whatever they got will not expand as we recover what they got from us. They can no longer expand.)

Joint exploration with China

In a separate segment, the presidential bets were asked if they agree with holding joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea.

Lacson, Moreno, Pacquiao and Robredo all answered "yes."

Robredo further noted that she would only agree with this if there is a recognition of the arbitral ruling, which invalidated China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing continues to reject the ruling more than five years since it was issued.

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