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Lacson: China’s presence in WPS threatens Philippines' food security

Presidential aspirant Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday that China's presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) not only concerns the Philippine’s maritime territory, but also the access of local fisherfolk to food.

“On top of the national security issue that China’s aggression entails, it cannot be denied that the inability of our fishermen to fish in our own waters due to the unabated harassment by Chinese coast guard and their militia vessels also poses threat to our food security,” he said during a virtual presser.

Lacson said that according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there are about 300,000 million kilograms of fish being caught in the WPS per year. He added that 7.5 million Filipinos are then deprived to eat fish, should each family consume 40 kilos of fish in a year.

“‘Yan po ‘yung implikasyon bukod sa sinasabing nating national security concerns, ‘yung food security mas mabigat ‘yan dahil dikit sa sikmura ng ating mga kababayan ‘yan,” he explained.

(This is one of the implications aside from the national security concerns--the food security is more important as it is close to the stomach of our countrymen.)

Lacson's running mate, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, earlier filed  Senate Bill 2289 or an "An Act Declaring the Maritime Zones under the Jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines" which seeks to provide “the needed flexibility in the passage of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations to which the Philippines is entitled and may exercise over its maritime zones.”

“Actually, we’re highlighting terms defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law (UNCLOS) which we are a party of, and therefore it really forms part of the law of the land. However, by enacting a municipal law or a domestic law to the effect, our rights over these maritime zones are fortified,” Sotto said.

The tandem earlier called on the government to step up initiatives in strengthening alliances with foreign states amid fresh aggressive acts by China in the WPS, noting that the Philippines should stop being a "pushover" of the super power.

On November 20, Lacson also raised Philippine flags during his visit to Pag-asa Island amid earlier reports of alleged harassment by Chinese Coast Guard vessels on two Philippine ships on their way to the Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal in the WPS.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, following a case filed by the Philippines, invalidated China's sweeping claims over the waters. Beijing did not recognize the ruling.

Stance on full foreign ownership

Lacson said that should he win the presidential race in Eleksyon 2022, he would not allow the Philippines’ shipping industry to fully open to foreign ownership due to concerns on national security and food security problems. He said that it would “kill” the local shipping industry if the 60-40% local-foreign sharing allowed in the Constitution would not be abided.

“I am taking the position that we should not open up our transport service to 100% ownership. That’s clearly a public utility regularly supplying the public with services,” he said in his position on the Public Services Act being tackled in the Senate.

Lacson cited the Supreme Court 2003 ruling which defines public utility as one that regularly supplies the people with crucial services.

He said that if the country fully allows foreign ownership, there may be less local ships to sail the WPS, including the country’s exclusive economic zones and all those in the 12-nautical mile limit.

“Where will our fishermen go? As it is now, it is a national security and food security problem. I hope majority of our colleagues will be convinced to support our position along with the position of Senator Ralph Recto,” he said.

He also vowed that he would grant incentives to the Philippine shipping industry for prioritizing local production and labor.

“We want to revive the 'Filipino First' policy not only in the shipping industry but in the food industry as well. We tend to be less dependent on importation and patronize more local products and services,” he added. 

Lacson also said he would offer assistance to Filipino seafarers and the local shipping industry in making sure their vessels are seaworthy and not outdated.

"While we enjoy the headway in terms of seafaring, ang ating facilities like ships, may edad na [our facilities like ships are aging]. I think we should work along the line of offering some financial package or assistance to our shipping industry," he said.   —LDF, GMA News