Press Release
April 13, 2021

FOCAP Forum on the West Philippine Sea

I am deeply indebted to the Foreign Correspondents of the Philippines for providing this panel with a forum to tell the world of the dangers posed by increasingly aggressive Chinese territorial expansion in the West Philippine Sea at the expense, unfortunately, of my country, the Philippines and its people.

This territorial dispute in a regional flashpoint, threatens to draw the whole world into a wider conflict.

I am also outraged and indignant at the deliberate, reckless, and unlawful campaign of the Chinese government to use its military and economic might to deprive the Filipino people of the full use of the waters comprising the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

The recent conduct of the Chinese Coast Guard as well as the People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, make it clear that our freedom of navigation within our own waters has been severely impaired.

China has not only excluded Filipino fisher-folk from their traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea, but also impeded the peaceful transit of a Philippine vessel in the country's own EEZ.

2021 was supposed to be a year of recovery; an opportunity to rebuild after the personal and economic traumas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the country confronts a Chinese government seemingly intent on undermining Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea at every turn.

Earlier this year, China passed a law authorizing its Coast Guard to use deadly force on foreign vessels within the so-called 9-dash line, a territorial claim that the International Court of Arbitration has already held to be without legal or historical basis.

Last March, over 200 vessels of China's maritime militia gathered at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, an area clearly within the Philippines' EEZ. The Chinese claimed their maritime militia was there to take shelter from inclement weather. But Philippine authorities said there was no storm.

Now, China claims Julian Felipe Reef is Chinese territory. When will the lies, deception, and hypocrisy stop? Their "gray zone strategy" in the WPS is premised on pursuing military and strategic objectives through using ostensibly civilian assets and enforcement methods. The Chinese government thinks it is being subtle and clever, but the only thing it is doing is showing the world that China cannot be trusted.

Having snuck into our backyard like the proverbial thief in the night, China seeks to consolidate its occupation of Philippine waters by force.

This April, a Chinese Coast Guard Vessel and a PLAN missile boat impeded a Philippine vessel from exercising the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - or UNCLOS - within our country's very own EEZ.

This is a direct challenge to the international rules-based order that has maintained stability in the region for so long, and the use of a PLAN missile boat to shadow the Philippine vessel back to the Philippine coast signals a willingness to escalate the conflict with naval assets.

The Chinese like to tell others to refrain from irresponsible behavior - but their recent behavior has been far from honest or responsible. The Chinese like to tell others to avoid actions that threaten bilateral relations as well as the peace and stability of the region - but it is Chinese greed for territory, power, and hegemony that threatens to suck the world into a regional conflict.

To convince us of its good intentions, China has given us its vaccines - possibly for free, or perhaps - as many people fear - in exchange for our waters. As I've said in previous statements, we must not allow China to shake our hands on vaccines and procurement, but stab us in the back on the West Philippine Sea. But Malacanang has tolerated China's duplicitous strategy.

Malacañang, even after the most recent incident in Ayungin Shoal, likes to call China our "friend," likes to talk about our "special friendship" with China.

But this isn't how a "friend" treats you. This isn't even the act of a "good neighbor." This is how imperialists have treated their vassals and client states since time immemorial.

By talking about this so-called "special friendship", the Palace is telegraphing its incapacity - or unwillingness - to defy Beijing, further emboldening the latter's imperial ambitions.

Moreover, by letting Beijing demean and abuse our country, the President is only signaling that we are weak; that we will not stand up for ourselves and our interests.

China is the bully pretending to be your best friend - and bullies feed off weakness and insecurity. It's time to say enough is enough. There is another way.

Indonesia has been able to acquire COVID-19 vaccines and Chinese investments, while resisting Chinese encroachments into its territory. So we know there are limits to Chinese recklessness and adventurism.

Our government must re-think its current alliances - and perhaps its allegiances. We must be consistent and firm in standing up for our national interests. We should hold China accountable for the damage she has done to fragile marine ecosystems within our EEZ. We should ensure that our environmental laws, and not China's, are the laws being implemented and enforced in the WPS.

At the Senate, I filed senate resolutions to address China's construction of artificial islands and to demand compensation from China for the ecological damage caused by her artificial islands. I intend to make these resolutions a priority once the Senate resumes its sessions in May.

As our DND and DFA pursue diplomatic initiatives, immediate action is also necessary. The Navy and Coast Guard should escort our fisher-folk to ensure that they have access to their primary - and perhaps only - means of subsistence.

We cannot allow ourselves to be kicked out of our own backyard. The West Philippine Sea is part of the patrimony of the Filipino people.

Above and beyond considerations of access to resources, diplomacy, and geopolitics, our national dignity is at stake. We, Filipinos, must not bend the knee to yet another imperial master. We must not cower in fear and submission. We must uphold the strength and courage of our nation.

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