President Rodrigo Duterte should move away from his pivot to China strategy in light of the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, former Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said Friday.
Colmenares, a critic of Duterte’s policies ranging from the war on drugs to friendly relations with Beijing, told an online protest that the President should “abandon his policy of subservience to China.”
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, meanwhile, said the Philippines gave away too many concessions to China in exchange for investment and infrastructure commitments which “hardly materialized.”
“We came to this point after years of [government] neglect of our rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
The Philippines has repeatedly urged China to withdraw the vessels from Julian Felipe Reef, which lies within Manila’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
China claims sovereignty over the reef, adding the vessels were only taking shelter due to rough sea conditions.
In a statement on Tuesday, Duterte said the issue on Julian Felipe Reef should be resolved through “peaceful means.”
“Whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations. It will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation [on] pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation and in post pandemic economic recovery,” he said.
China has refused to recognize the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, which forms part of the South China Sea. The tribunal also declared illegal Beijing’s excessive maritime claims in the resource-rich waterway.
Last September, Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly that the ruling was “beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
However, he has repeatedly said provoking China into war over the West Philippine Sea would only result in a massacre of government troops.
Colmenares urged other claimants in the South China Sea such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei to hold joint patrols with the Philippines in the disputed waterway.
He also asked the United Nations to pass a resolution calling for the demilitarization of the South China Sea and the dismantlement of Chinese military installations on artificial islands.
For his part, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said Duterte still has to take decisive actions in connection with the Julian Felipe Reef incident.
“Nasaan ang Pangulo sa panahon na inaagaw ang mga isla at dagat at binabastos ang ating mga opisyal at ang ating bayan? Hanggang ngayon, wala po tayong nakikitang mapagpasyang aksyon mula kay Pangulong Duterte,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. in an online protest which coincided with the country’s commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).
(Where is the president at a time when our islands and seas are being taken from us, when our officials and nation are being insulted? Until now, we have not seen any decisive action from President Duterte.)
Earlier this week, Duterte said through his spokesman Harry Roque that the presence of Chinese vessels on Philippine waters is not an obstacle to the friendship of the two nations, adding that they continue to cooperate on COVID-19 vaccines.
But Reyes questioned how Duterte could say that the row has no effect on China-Philippines relations.
“Hindi ba dapat merong consequences ang ginagawa ng China sa atin? Hindi ‘yung parang inaamo pa natin ‘yung mga nang-aapi sa atin,” he said.
(Shouldn’t there be consequences for what China is doing to us? It’s as if we are appeasing the people who are oppressing us.) — with Julia Mari Ornedo/RSJ, GMA News