EDITORIAL - External threats

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - External threats

The country celebrates its 126th Independence Day today with yet another foreign country threatening Philippine sovereignty and maritime rights. President Marcos, speaking on the eve of Independence Day, warned that external threats faced by the country were becoming “more worrisome” as he alerted the military about heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.

Today’s event commemorates the declaration of independence from Spanish colonizers, which was made by Philippine revolutionary leaders while the guns of the United States naval armada were trained on the Manila Bay coastline. What followed was half a century of US occupation, during which the Philippines developed a dependence on the American security umbrella particularly for external defense.

That umbrella disappeared with the shutdown of US bases in 1991 and 1992. With too many other internal problems to deal with, the Philippines was slow in making up for the loss in external defense capability. During that period, China moved in, beginning with its occupation of Panganiban or Mischief Reef off Palawan and its development into an artificial island. Panganiban now serves as a Chinese military outpost, and there are more Chinese artificial islands across the Spratlys including in the West Philippine Sea. Some quarters have described it as a creeping Chinese invasion.

Facing a superior military force, the Philippines turned to peaceful arbitration, invoking international rules to bolster its maritime rights. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, defining not only its maritime entitlements within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone or EEZ but also invalidating Beijing’s entire claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.

The arbitral award was based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to which both Manila and Beijing are signatories. Yet China has refused to abide by the ruling, and has since become more aggressive in staking its greedy maritime claim. It has endangered the lives of Filipino fishermen, coast guard and navy members with blasts from powerful water cannons, prevented fishing and harassed Philippine vessels within the country’s EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

Yesterday, progressive groups staged a rally, calling for freedom from Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea. It is a fitting theme as the Philippines celebrates the anniversary of its declaration of independence.

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