Senator Risa Hontiveros: 'China Is Alone'
The government isn’t doing enough to counter China’s increasingly brazen and aggressive moves in the West Philippine Sea, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said. The senator, who has often been outspoken about China’s encroachment on Philippine-claimed territories in the area raised the country’s victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.
“We are not yet doing enough considering that we have the most powerful diplomatic and political victory ever awarded to a claimant country on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” she said during a virtual chat with editors of Summit Media. “According to Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, that arbitral ruling awarded not only the Philippines but all claimant countries in the whole South China Sea and even all countries on the planet.”
Multiple news reports have come up in recent months about Chinese ships’ incursion into Philippine waters. In March, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China after over 200 of its vessels were spotted anchored near Julian Felipe Reef, which is about 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. That is well within the country’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as prescribed by UNCLOS.
“Hello, China is also a signatory in UNCLOS,” Hontiveros said. “So she is morally obligated to respect our rights in our exclusive economic zone, and to respect our rights in that part of the the West Philippine Sea, so mas marami pa tayong pwedeng gawin in our own backyard.”
In 2020, Hontiveros filed a Senate resolution questioning alleged construction and dredging operations in areas within the Philippines’ EEZ. In April this year, she renewed calls for the government to look into those activities.
“Hindi pa natin ginagawa lahat ng pwede at dapat nating gawin (We haven’t done everything we can and should do),” she said.
For starters, Hontiveros urged the government “to denounce every move and pronouncement made by China that undermines our claims in the West Philippines Sea.”
“Dapat hindi na tawagin ng gobyerno natin ang Hague ruling na papel na sukat nang itapon sa basurahan. At saka wag nilang mamaliitin yung mga kwento at sumbong ng mga mangingisda ng mga abuso at harassment sa kamay ng mga Chinese vessels (The government shouldn’t treat The Hague ruling as a piece of paper that can be thrown into the wastebasket. And it shouldn’t take lightly the complaints of fishermen of abuse and harassment in the hands of Chinese vessels),” she said.
In addition, Hontiveros urged the government to forge closer ties and coordination with ASEAN, some members of which are also claimant countries of territories in the West Philippine Sea.
“Let's proactively engage ASEAN,” she said. “ASEAN can and should stand together against China's bullying. Let’s put aside our differences between and among ASEAN countries and let's work together towards that common goal of opposing all the unfounded and over-ambitious overreaching Chinese territorial claims in the region.”
It will also benefit the country to engage other formations like the Quad, which is composed of France, India, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and all the other naval powers in the world, who she said has an interest to seek a fair and peaceful solution to conflict in the area.
“China is committed to a strategy based on her own individual strength,” she said. “Ganun siya kasi kalaki, kalakas, kayaman. She has the largest Navy in this region, the largest coast guard in this region. So akala niya, she can go it alone. Pero, tayo, Pilipinas at sa tulong sana kung hindi man buo o karamihan sa ASEAN, we need to resist.
“I really think that international solidarity first in our region and then all over the world, is the key to making China behave,” she added. “Kasi nag-iisa lang siya talaga. That’s why she wants to keep on dealing with us bilaterally. She can pick on each of us kung one-on-one. Pero kung nagsama tayo at iba pa, I think hindi niya kakayanin.”