Press Release
May 11, 2021

'KEEP PRESSURING CHINA' Hontiveros urges DFA to lead talks with ASEAN on WPS dispute


Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to lead talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding the prolonged presence of China's vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

The senator's statement comes after geo-intelligence firm Simularity reported that over 200 vessels are still in the disputed waters as of May. These vessels are believed to be the same fleet spotted over Julian Felipe Reef in March.

"Parang wala namang lumayas na Chinese vessels sa teritoryo natin. Hindi pa rin umaatras ang Tsina, kaya dapat patuloy tayong umabante. Hindi pwedeng tayo lang sa Pilipinas ang salita nang salita para mapaalis ang mga barko ng Tsina, dapat malakas na manindigan na rin ang ASEAN. Manguna na ang DFA na makipag-ugnayan sa mga bansa sa ASEAN. We need to go ahead and take charge," Hontiveros said.

According to Simularity's CEO Liz Derr, on May 3, seven ships were spotted over Julian Felipe Reef, 150 ships over Hughes Reef, and another 50 ships over Gaven Reef. These areas are all within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.

"Nakailang diplomatic protests na tayo, hindi pa rin tuluyang napaalis ang Tsina. Every time a diplomatic protest is lodged, a stronger action point among Southeast Asian nations should go along with it. We have a very capable DFA, which is why I trust that through proactive collaboration and sheer political will, we would be able to convince other countries in the region to help us keep pressuring China," the senator said.

Hontiveros suggested the DFA can start actively reaching out to other ASEAN member states that also have claims in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. She then recommended fostering a stronger relationship with Indonesia, which is the only ASEAN member state that has so far publicly acknowledged the Philippines' 2016 Arbitral Award.

"Let's gather forces one by one. While the ASEAN as a union cannot yet enforce a policy that could push China to follow international law, let's not stop building and strengthening alliances with those we know unambiguously contest China's excessive claims in the entire SCS. Huwag na tayo magpigil sa mga diplomatikong paraan para mapalayas ang Tsina. Gawin natin ang lahat," Hontiveros said.

"Let's do everything we can before it's too late. We need to keep asserting and reasserting our rights. Our claims can only be made stronger if ASEAN has a uniform, consistent, and solid message: China, pack up and get out," Hontiveros concluded.

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