Press Release
July 26, 2023

Resolution urging the Philippine government through the Department of Foreign Affairs to sponsor a resolution before the UN General Assembly calling on China to stop its harassment of Philippine vessels within the West Philippine Sea
July 26, 2023

Mr. President, as I stand before you today to sponsor Proposed Senate Resolution No. 659, I do so not only with a sense of urgency and deep concern, but also with awe at the stakes of this issue that lies before us.

The reckless, unrepentant, and continuous incursion of Chinese vessels into the heart of the West Philippine Sea strikes at the very core of our nation's sovereignty, the integrity of our country's maritime zones, and the rights of our people.

Alam ko po na may mga agam-agam, may mga tanong tungkol sa resolusyon na hindi pa tuluyang nasasagot. Kaya ba nating tumindig sa Tsina? Kaya ba nating kalabanin muli ang isang dambuhalang bansa? Ano ang kailangan nating paghahanda? Ano ang nakataya?

These are only some questions that we can debate on interminably, and questions for which we rely on the wisdom of our international law experts, our esteemed diplomats. But, as elected representatives of the people, we carry the weight of every Filipino's hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Our citizens look to us in the Senate to defend our homeland, and their future.

Mr. President, dear colleagues, there is too much at stake. If we do nothing, there is too much to lose.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources estimates that 324,312 metric tons of fisheries products were harvested from the West Philippine Sea in 2020, 7% of our total production that year.

In terms of energy resources, a US Geological Survey Report estimates there are 28 billion barrels of oil and 266 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the South China Sea, much of it in the Recto Bank, well within our Exclusive Economic Zone.

China knows this. The China National Offshore Oil Company thinks that the area contains even more energy, 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of gas. Enough energy to power a bright future for our children, and our children's children. Perhaps energy enough for all the competing claimants in the region.

These are only the tangible, economic stakes, Mr. President. The inherent value of asserting a rules-based order in international law is priceless, a guaranteed defense of predictability and stability for weaker states like the Philippines.

Mr. President, considering these stakes, considering all that we stand to lose, I maintain that there is no other option but to stand united behind the Philippine victory in The Hague and in opposition to the illegitimate territorial claims embodied in the so-called "9-dash line."

Just last month, Chinese vessels attempted to interdict a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre. Brig. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan, deputy chief of staff of the AFP, stated that the Chinese Coast Guard has also harassed similar resupply missions to the Kalayaan Island Group.

If we are not careful, this could lead to a repeat of the Panatag Shoal incident, in which the Chinese government chose to use naked force to unlawfully occupy a maritime feature rich in fisheries resources a mere 119 Nautical Miles from Luzon, and well within our Exclusive Economic Zone.

Hahayaan ba nating gutumin hanggang sa mamatay ang ating mga tao bago pa tayo kumilos?

This is an issue that transcends politics and partisanship and indeed, several of you, my dear colleagues, have already spoken out against the Chinese government's flagrant disregard for the norms and conventions of international law.

Hindi naman bago sa Senado na manindigan para sa Pilipinas. In veteran journalist Marites Vitug's book "Rock Solid," she shared how former members of this August Body contributed to our decades-long fight for these disputed waters so critical to our country's future. Kasama na dito ang yumaong si Senador Rodolfo Biazon na isa sa mga unang tumayo para sa ating soberanya.

Guided by our predecessors, we have the responsibility to use all available platforms and all tools of statecraft at our disposal to assert our rightful claims. We must exhaust all diplomatic means in our arsenal. These include our options on the ground, our options in the court of international opinion, and our options among our ASEAN and regional neighbors.

Without abandoning all other possible options, we must also pursue our option in the United Nations. Specifically, bringing a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly to put a stop to Chinese harassment in our waters and to demand full compliance with the arbitral award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Mr. President, I'm not going to pretend such a course of action would be easy. China is a global titan with hegemonic ambitions. And the Chinese government has also shrewdly pursued a policy of leveraging its economic might to secure international influence. I harbor no illusions that this is an easy task.

But China's track record in the UNGA is not infallible. According to a study by the Lowy Institute in Australia, China's contributions do not always successfully translate to influence. In 2015 , for example - in the face of furious opposition from China -- 117 Member-States of the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution recognizing the role of human rights defenders, calling for their protection, and urging states to release persons arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. This demonstrates how the UN and the UNGA still remain viable platforms to uphold international law and protect weaker states.

And now that our country has received a snowballing of support for our lawful claims in the West Philippine Sea, now that we are at an optimal juncture to call on more nations to rally behind our cause, now is the time to push for this course of action.

Just last month, 16 member-countries of the European Union issued a statement reaffirming their support for the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration recognizing our nation's rights over the West Philippine Sea. Recently, India distanced herself from its partners in the BRICS by issuing a joint statement with the Philippines, stressing a shared interest in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

Along with our other security partners and allies, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Italy who have already reaffirmed their support for the arbitral ruling, this is a clear sign that the world is arriving at a consensus recognizing the validity of our claim to the West Philippine Sea.

While we are in a better position than we were 7 years ago, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our regional allies and partners, we must continue to solidify that international consensus against the unlawful claims of the Chinese government, and the illegitimate policy it is pursuing in the West Philippine Sea of attempting to do with force and coercion what it cannot achieve under international law.

Nonetheless, I recognize that this will require all the craft and ingenuity of our diplomats and I trust in the wisdom of the men and women of the DFA to craft language that can mobilize the widest consensus. I have no doubt that our institutions and the entire Filipino public will give our full and unconditional support as they represent the pride and honor of our country on the world stage.

Mr. President, dear colleagues, a UNGA resolution could bolster the Arbitral Award, which makes one thing supremely, and absolutely, clear: "China's claim of historic rights to resources in the waters of the entire South China Sea was illegal and incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided by the UNCLOS."

A UNGA resolution is in the interest not only of the Philippines but also the entire community of nations; nations that have learned not just the follies but also the limits of force and war, and have sworn never to repeat that bitter lesson.

Mr. President, taking this to a vote before the United Nations, knowing the stakes, knowing who we are up against, is us telling the Filipino people that we will not cower in fear, that we will fight with them. As the BRP Sierra Madre -- tattered by the weather and battered by history -- continues to stand defiantly as a symbol of a country that will not yield, not one nautical inch; so too must we stand.

Let us take heart from the courage of our own people -- the fisherfolk who still venture out to sea, the Philippine Marines who stand their ground on a rusting ship - gawin po natin ito para sa kanila. Para sa ating mga anak. Para sa mundong prinoprotektahan ang mahina at nirerendahan ang malakas. At higit sa lahat, para sa minamahal nating Pilipinas.

Mabuhay, Mr. President, at maraming salamat!

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