Press Release
July 16, 2020

Hontiveros calls on gov't to pursue an independent and interdependent foreign policy to protect Filipino fisherfolk

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday said the government should pursue an independent foreign policy and reassert its ownership of Philippine territories, amid growing international consensus against China's excessive and unlawful territorial assertions.

"Government must ensure that what is ours remains ours. The potential loss of the West Philippine Sea is tantamount to the loss of livelihood for Filipino fisherfolk who depend on these resources. Lalo na at may pandemya, dapat may seguridad ang hanapbuhay ng bawat Pilipino," Hontiveros said.

The senator also highlighted that our independent foreign policy should be strengthened to end any further destruction that China has caused our seas, which has ballooned to over P200 billion worth of damage in our reef ecosystems.

"Kapag sira na ang mga likas-yaman na ito, saan pa maghahanap-buhay ang ating mangingisda? Ang pambubully ng Tsina ay ikinapahamak ng 14 nating mangingisda na hanggang ngayon ay hindi parin nahahanap. Ang pambubully ng Tsina ay ikinalubog din ng mga mangingisda ng Gem-Ver, ikinawala ng kanilang hanapbuhay, at ikinautang pa nila," the senator said, citing a report stating that Gem-Ver fishermen had to spend about P2.1 million to repair their boat after they were rammed by a Chinese vessel in 2019.

The current COVID-19 lockdown has also prohibited fisherfolk from going fishing. Hontiveros added that China's aggression in our territories despite the pandemic is an additional burden and threat to our fisherfolk. "Kailangan magpasya ang gobyerno na tulungan na agad ang ating mga mangingisda dahil kung hindi ay unti-unting mawawala ang kanilang kabuhayan, at mas lalong mawawalan sila ng pag-asa," she said.

Hontiveros also welcomes the United States' recent pronouncement that rejected China's maritime claims around the disputed waters. "It's becoming clear that only China recognizes this so-called 'nine-dash line,' a self-serving declaration that has no legitimate basis. We must be able to work with like-minded countries, especially our allies in Southeast Asia to defend our sovereign rights, and to ensure that our fisherfolk continue to enjoy access to our own waters," she said.

Hontiveros also said that while the Philippines is dealing with Beijing on the West Philippine Sea, the country could become caught in a strategic tug of war between China's Belt and Road Initiative and the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific Initiative. As such, the senator said the reinforcement of an independent foreign policy is needed to maintain a balance of power in the region.

"Small countries like the Philippines are often stuck between competing interests of giants. As the US and China further their own interests, the government should not allow these superpowers to use the Philippines as a pawn in furthering their own agendas. We are our own country. Atin ang Pinas. We should have the full right and power to protect our land, seas, and people," she explained.

The senator underscored that reaffirming both our independent foreign policy and the rules-based international order is the only way to resolve conflicts without the use of armed force, and crucially, the only way to ensure that our fisherfolks have access to our exclusive economic zone.

"Sa huli, ang ordinaryong mamamayan ang malalagay sa panganib kung hindi maproprotektahan ang ating mga teritoryo. Hindi lang soberanya ng bansa ang mawawala, pati narin pamumuhay at dignidad ng mga Pilipino," Hontiveros concluded.

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