July 17, 2023
MANILA — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has thrown his support behind a proposal for the Philippines to elevate to the United Nations General Assembly China’s repeated violations of the landmark 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its territorial claim over the West Philippine Sea.
He also said the majority of the senators are in favor of a resolution that Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed on June 19 urging the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring the Philippines’ grievances to the UN’s main policymaking body.
“We shouldn’t stop at just the arbitral ruling, but follow up with [the UN] on what is actually going on, on the ground,” Zubiri told the Inquirer. “We should present to the UN the repeated incursions and violations of China against The Hague arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea.”
He added that the Philippines must also submit to the UN General Assembly footage and pictures of China’s “creeping invasion towards our country and our neighbors with their continuous reclamation” within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Zubiri pointed out that Beijing had been conducting similar activities in international waters “that hamper the freedom of navigation.”
He issued the remarks after Beijing again disregarded Manila’s historic legal victory as the country marked the seventh year of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on July 12, 2016, invalidating China’s nine-dash-line claim and affirming the Philippines’ sovereign rights within its EEZ.
Hontiveros’ resolution was based on a recommendation by retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has lent his legal expertise to help strengthen the country’s position against China, which has refused to abide by the ruling from The Hague, where the arbitral court is based.
Zubiri said they would immediately take up the resolution when the 24-member chamber resumes its regular session on July 25.
Besides Zubiri and Hontiveros, Senators Francis Tolentino, Jinggoy Estrada, and JV Ejercito also supported Carpio’s proposal.
Zubiri said it was high time for UN members to be made officially aware of China’s daily “illegal incursions” in Philippine territory.
He cited the situation in Recto (Reed) Bank, a resource-rich area off Palawan province where dozens of Chinese vessels were recently spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
The Senate leader pointed out that the area is located just 148 kilometers (80 nautical miles) from mainland Palawan and about 833 kilometers (450 nautical miles) away from China.
Recto Bank is just a few kilometers from the popular beach destinations in El Nido and Coron towns in Palawan, while the Spratly Islands are some 926 kilometers (500 nautical miles) from the Chinese mainland.
“For the life of me, I do not understand how they could say that those areas are theirs and not ours when our country is very near while their country is very far away from those waters,” Zubiri said.
He noted further that 16 member states of the European Union recently spoke out in support of the Philippines’ legal victory over China.
They also reiterated the fundamental importance of upholding the freedoms, rights, and duties established in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, particularly the freedoms of navigation and overflight.
For Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., the international support for the 2016 arbitral ruling should be enough basis to conduct joint patrols with the country’s allies on the West Philippine Sea.
He cited the recent swarming of 48 Chinese boats, including the 12,000-ton China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel 5901 nicknamed “The Monster,” as reported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PCG at Del Pilar (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal near Recto Bank, as well as maneuvers by CCG ships to block PCG vessels from reaching Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
“Stepped-up maritime patrols would really be a deterrent if such were to be conducted in tandem with vessels from the US, Australia, Japan, and our other allies who want to keep the Indo-Pacific region a zone of peace and stability,” Villafuerte said.
“The appropriate approach for us right now to better defend our territory against the bullying ways of a military superpower like China is to secure Philippine waters with the help of the US and possibly our other allies like Australia and Japan that similarly aspire for peace, security, and stability in the region,” he added.
He lamented that the three diplomatic negotiations between Manila and Beijing this year, which started with talks between Presidents Marcos and Xi Jinping in Beijing last January, had largely failed, as these were followed by even more aggressive incursions by Chinese vessels into the Philippines’ EEZ.