Apprehending 'trespassers' will escalate South China Sea dispute — Zubiri

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Apprehending 'trespassers' will escalate South China Sea dispute � Zubiri
Philippine Coast Guard personnel aboard BRP Bagacay observe a China Coast Guard ship during the distribution of fuel and food to fishers by the civilian-led mission Atin Ito (This Is Ours) Coalition, in the disputed South China Sea on May 16, 2024. A Philippine boat convoy bearing supplies for Filipino fishers said they were headed back to port May 16, ditching plans to sail to a Beijing-held reef off the Southeast Asian country after one of their boats was "constantly shadowed" by a Chinese vessel.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said China would only worsen the situation in the region if it makes good its threat to apprehend “trespassers” in the South China Sea.

“I am appealing to the Chinese government not to force that on us because it would only escalate the tension,” Zubiri said in an interview with dwIZ

He reminded China that it is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that protects the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

“This means any fishing boat or cargo ship can pass through without the threat of being detained or captured by claimant countries. There should be freedom of navigation and free open access in the Indo-Pacific Region,” Zubiri said.

He stressed that arresting those onboard a Philippine Coast Guard or a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel is tantamount to arbitrary illegal detention, a serious offense in the Philippines.

“That is a unilateral illegal move under UNCLOS, an illegal act that would only fan the tension in the region,” the Senate leader said.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, for his part, asked China to adhere to a rules-based order, instead of resorting to acts of intimidation to assert its claim.

“We’re awaiting the pronouncement of the Department of Foreign Affairs if they have received any official document on this. Nonetheless, we have taken note of this matter,” said Estrada, who chairs the Senate national defense and security committee.

“While we respect China’s right to safeguard its territorial interests, we also emphasize the importance of adhering to international norms and agreements,” he added.

“The Philippines remains committed to upholding our rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea. We hope China will likewise respect the rights of other nations operating in these waters. We encourage all parties to exercise restraint and seek peaceful solutions to disputes,” Estrada said.

Speaker Martin Romualdez also lambasted China for issuing rules that could only inflame the situation in the region.

“China’s aggressive pronouncements are a blatant escalation of tensions in West Philippine Sea. These unilateral actions flagrantly violate international law and the established norms that guide the Philippines and other law-abiding nations with claims in the South China Sea,” he said in a statement.

He stressed that China must “act as a responsible member of the global community rather than imposing its own laws unilaterally and bullying other nations.”

“The House of the Filipino People will not tolerate any arrests of our citizens or fishermen within our own Exclusive Economic Zone. We will fiercely defend our sovereignty and ensure the safety and rights of our people,” he maintained. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Sheila Crisostomo

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