Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

When President Marcos received confirmation from National Security Adviser Secretary Eduardo Año that indeed, the Chinese Coast Guard had installed a floating rope and net barrier at the Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal, without hesitation the President decisively gave instructions to dismantle the barrier. Secretary Año is chair of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, and he was more than happy to immediately order the Philippine Coast Guard to conduct a special operation implementing the President’s directive.

Aside from posing a hazard to navigation, the 300-meter-long floating barrier that obstructed the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc was also preventing fisherfolk from conducting activities in an area that the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration arbitral ruling declared as traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen.

News of the decisive action taken by the President reverberated well not only among Filipinos but the international community as well. The President made it very clear when he said during a news briefing the other day, “We are not looking for trouble, but we will continue to defend the maritime territory of the Philippines and the rights of our fishermen, who have been fishing in those areas for centuries.”

With the barrier removed, fishermen were able to catch 164 tons of fish on that day alone, giving a very clear picture of the economic losses our fisherfolk have been suffering due to intimidation and aggression from China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in areas within our exclusive economic zone.

There is no doubt our fishermen have long endured Chinese harassment. It is truly heartbreaking to hear fisherfolk recount the struggles they faced at having been deprived of their livelihood, the frustration and helplessness they felt at being unable to put food on the table, lamenting that they have been made to feel like thieves in their own backyard.

What is equally mortifying is the wanton destruction of our coral reefs, with the damage to our reef ecosystem amounting to billions of pesos every year. No leader with any sense of decency and humanity would tolerate such desecration of rich maritime resources that Senate President Migz Zubiri rightly described as “God’s gift” to mankind.

It is extremely ironic that China has the audacity to claim that we are the ones destroying the environment with the presence of the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. As Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro succinctly pointed out, China’s statement is hypocritical. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!” Secretary Teodoro fired back, pointing out that China continues to damage the West Philippine Sea and the marine environment by conducting illegal reclamation activities in violation of international law.

The President’s decisive action and the courage displayed by the Philippine Coast Guard as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines have lifted the morale of Filipinos. This is very evident in the comments and reactions to stories carried by international news outlets. For instance, in the report filed by BBC News about the removal of the floating barrier where Bajo de Masinloc was described as “contested territory,” many commenters pointed out that the area is “not contested since it is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” with many more expressing their support and admiration for the Philippine Navy, the Armed Forces and the PCG.

It is heartwarming to see the encouragement coming from people in other parts of the world, among them India, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, the UK, Ireland, the US, saying “Well done, Filipinos! We are proud and stand by you,” “I’m very proud of my brothers and sisters in Philippines,” “God bless the Filipinos for standing up and defending its sovereign territory. May all ASEAN countries stand together as one,” and similar comments.

In fact, support from the international community has been growing, expressing solidarity with the Philippines and its pushback against the continuing aggression of China in the West Philippine Sea. More countries are also keen to conduct joint maritime activities with the Philippines, such as Canada, whose Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa sailed with BRP Antonio Luna and performed joint maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea a week ago.

Early this month, the Philippines will be hosting joint naval exercises with the US on the fundamentals of anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-air warfare and electronic warfare, with interoperability drills to focus on “warfighting serials.” Dubbed “Samasama” (together), the exercise will also have participants from Japan, Canada, the UK and Australia along with personnel from France, New Zealand and Indonesia.

In a phone call to President Marcos, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for the Philippines in the face of Chinese aggression. France had earlier offered to help the Philippines develop its submarine force to boost the country’s maritime capabilities.

Certainly, funding support from Congress will bolster the capability of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, NSC, AFP and PCG to conduct intelligence work together with our allies and partners. Surveillance equipment is also being upgraded, with the PCG receiving a boost through the US donation of a P250-million training center and P11 million worth of monitoring equipment to enhance their maritime law enforcement efforts. During her visit last November, US Vice President Kamala Harris lauded the PCG for being “on the frontlines of standing up for the international rules-based order.”

All these recent developments have awakened a greater sense of patriotism among Filipinos who no longer feel helpless and alone, especially with like-minded nations being supportive of efforts to push back and assert our maritime territorial rights and protect our sovereignty in the wake of China’s relentless bullying and aggression. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

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Email: [email protected]

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