‘No right to stay in Philippines waters’

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
�No right to stay in Philippines waters�
A member of the Philippine Coast Guard looks at a China coast guard vessel as they come close during a mission to deliver provisions in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Nov. 10.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Calling China a bully, senators reminded yesterday the Chinese coast guard that it does not have the right to trespass into, much less remain, in Philippine waters.

The senators were reacting to CCG’s latest act of harassment in the West Philippine Sea last Friday, wherein the Chinese fired water cannon at one of the Philippine vessels delivering provisions for soldiers stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the incident has exposed “China as a bully: using size and brute strength to illegally encroach upon our exclusive economic zone and enforce a baseless right to drive away our protectors.”

“No amount of aggression can undo the fact that the Chinese government’s claims to the West Philippine Sea have already been invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” he said, referring to the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim.

“Water cannons and blockades will not dampen the will and resolve of our Navy and our Coast Guard to protect our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea,” Zubiri said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda said there was no truth to the CCG’s claim that it was the Philippine vessels that were “trespassing,” as the area where Friday’s incident happened was well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“The Philippines takes every opportunity to assert the significance and importance of the 2016 Arbitral Award in bilateral and multilateral fora. Our country is consistent that the UNCLOS and Award are twin anchors of its actions and its policy in the West Philippine Sea,” Legarda said.

She lauded those involved in the resupply mission as well as the troops stationed on the Sierra Madre for “fulfilling their duty to the nation.”

For his part, Senator JV Ejercito said the “latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission” were not only illegal, but also a proof of China’s insincerity in maintaining stability in the region.

“This latest bullying exposes China’s lack of sincerity in peaceful talks. We cannot allow this act of coercion to jeopardize our territory, security and peace,” Ejercito said.

“I demand that China immediately cease these unlawful activities, vacate the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal and refrain from encroaching on our territory. This is ours, not yours. Respect our sovereign rights; stop the harassment,” he added.

For Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the Philippines should consider seeking support from the UN General Assembly amid China’s increasingly aggressive actions.

“Our government should seriously consider heeding the adopted Senate Resolution No. 79 which recommends several courses of action, one of which is the filing of a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly to call for the cessation of all activities that harass Philippine vessels and violate our established rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Estrada said.

“In a show of solidarity, my colleagues and I crossed party lines in unanimously passing this resolution which calls out China for its repeated incursions in the WPS and incessant harassment of Filipino fishermen, patrol vessels and resupply mission teams,” Estrada said.

“Recent developments involving China’s unlawful acts and increasing aggression against our vessels are leaving us with no other recourse but to take appropriate action in asserting and securing our sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone. China should be made to stop its illegal activities,” he added.

Appeal to AFP

Speaker Martin Romualdez said the incident has underscored the need for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to build up its capabilities for maintaining peace and upholding sovereignty, and not for waging war.

“Our nation stands at a pivotal juncture, where the ripples of global tensions are felt even within the serene waters of the (WPS). It is here that our brave men and women in uniform stand as sentinels of sovereignty, safeguarding our nation’s territory against the ceaseless tides of adversity,” Romualdez said at a forum of the National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni Association at Camp Aquinaldo on Friday.

He also conveyed his “admiration and gratitude to the courageous and dedicated Filipino soldiers” and reaffirmed the commitment of the House of Representatives to help bolster AFP’s operational capabilities.

“The House of Representatives, fully aware of the weight of this responsibility, has been unyielding in its commitment to fortify the operational capabilities of our Armed Forces,” he added.

“We have embarked on a strategic journey, not only to modernize our military assets but also to ensure that our personnel are equipped with the fortitude of skill and the assurance of a nation’s unwavering support,” he maintained.

According to Romualdez, some P282.7 billion of the P5.768-trillion proposed national budget for 2024 has been earmarked for the defense sector.  This was 21.6 percent higher than this year’s allocation.

The House had also removed some P1.23 billion in confidential funds of civilian agencies like the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education and reallocated them to agencies mandated to uphold national security.

This “strategic reallocation” includes P300 million to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, P100 million to the National Security Council, P200 million to the Philippine Coast Guard for intelligence activities and ammunition and P381.3 million to the Department of Transportation for the development or expansion of Pag-Asa Island Airport.

Romualez pointed out that the allocation demonstrates “our dedication to maintaining a strong and credible defense posture, one that sends a clear message that we will not compromise when it comes to safeguarding our national interests.”

“As a nation, we must take proactive measures to enhance our defense capabilities and ensure that we have the necessary resources to effectively protect our sovereign rights,” he added.

Don’t expose civilians

While commending civilian help in resupply missions, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez cautioned the AFP against such practice, saying it exposes civilian lives to danger.

“Let’s end this practice. I do not see the rationale for using civilian boats and crew in delivering supplies to our soldiers whose presence in that remote part of the West Philippine Sea symbolizes our national sovereignty and territorial integrity there,” said Rodriguez, who is a member of the House committee on national defense and security.

Instead of tapping civilians for the task, Rodriguez recommended that provisions for Sierra Madre be air dropped by the air assets of the AFP.

“The danger Air Force and Navy personnel would face in those missions is the same as that civilian boat crew have to contend (with). But unlike civilians who are just doing a civic duty, it is the responsibility of the military to resupply our troops in Ayungin and protect our country’s national sovereignty and territory,” he stressed.

Rodriguez added the military could use “a number of strategies in air dropping supplies.”

He cited the use of decoy planes with military videographers and photographers documenting the mission.

The lawmaker also suggested that the AFP and DND request the country’s allies like the United States to deploy surveillance aircraft to monitor the airdrops.

He said it would be difficult for China’s People’s Liberation Army and Coast Guard to block Philippine planes dropping supplies for Filipino soldiers in Ayungin.

“They would have to intentionally crash their aircraft with ours or shoot down our planes. We don’t want that to happen, but if it happens, then our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States will come into play,” he added.

“We should not be avoiding the Chinese there. They should be the ones avoiding us in our territory. In fact, they should stop intruding in Ayungin and Scarborough Shoal off Pangasinan and Zambales, and any part of our 200-mile exclusive economic zone,” he added. – Sheila Crisostomo, Marc Jayson Cayabyab

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