By Charissa M. Luci-Atienza
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate called on the Duterte administration yesterday to send Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel to accompany and protect Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or South China Sea.
He said the government should take action against the Chinese coast guards for harassing and taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc.
“We have to show China that we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory. Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China, who apparently now treat the Philippines as her vassal state,” he said in a statement.
He lambasted the Duterte administration’s “lackadaisical actions in defending our Filipino fishermen and national sovereignty.”
“China is apparently treating the Duterte administration as a pushover by doing what they want in Bajo de Masinloc and the rest of the West Philippine Sea without nary a whimper from Malacañang,” Zarate said.
“We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Malacañang to stand up for our fisherfolks and our territory. We have already suggested in the past the filing of a diplomatic protest and increasing patrols of our seas, among others. One thing is clear though, the government must do something now to stop this invasion of China,” he added.
However, Zarate rejected the US Pentagon’s planned expansion of its naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to challenge China’s military build-up in the area.
For her part, Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo said the Chinese coast guard’s taking the fish catch of Filipino fisherman at Panatag Shoal was a “blatant disregard” of the rights of Filipinos and Philippine authority over the rich fishing ground off Zambales.
“We are too alarmed over reports that the Chinese Coast Guard was taking the fish catch of our fishermen,” told reporters in Filipino last Saturday.
Robredo is concerned about the actions of Chinese coast guard towards the Filipino fishermen in the waters “clearly within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”
The Vice President cited the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international tribunal in The Hague, that upheld the exclusive rights of the Philippines over resources within the West Philippine Sea
Alejano stands ground
Meanwhile, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano II stood by his story that the Duterte administration allegedly ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to stop patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
“I am not making up stories,” Alejano said after the Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP denied his claim last Saturday.
“Nagsasalita lang ako para sa mga taong hindi makapagsalita sa publiko. Nire-relay natin yan dahil gusto nating ipakita na may mga nangyayari sa ground na hindi naman tugma don sa mga sinasabi nila in public. And it is my principle and policy not to say something without basis. Hindi po ako nag-iimbento ng kwento,” he said in a radio interview.
He maintained that the order came from Malacañang but refused to identify the source of his information.
“Hindi koryente yan. I am 100 percent sure because the person, the source, has the authority and he relayed to me the information personally,” he said.
“I never mentioned the name of the president. But since it is an order from Malacañang, it has the authority of the President,” he pointed out.
Based on the information he received, there was an instruction to stop patrolling in the Scarborough Shoal and West Philippine Sea because it might offend China.
Gov’t denies claims
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza and AFP spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo denied Alejano’s claims.
Arevalo said the military remains committed to its job of defending its territory despite Duterte’s warm ties with China.
In an interview over radio station dzBB, Arevalo said the AFP remains apolitical or doesn’t meddle with matters concerning the country’s foreign relations and foreign policy.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano branded as “blatant lie” the claims made by Alejano.
“This is a blatant lie. I don’t know where this is coming from. I don’t know if he was given a fake news or he’s the one peddling the fake news so he would land in the newspapers, and eventually announce his candidacy for senator,” Cayetano told reporters.
“I used to listen to him (Alejano) because we need to hear critics in society to point out what is needed or what is wrong. But how can you listen to that critic who’s telling a lie,” the DFA chief said.
For his part, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said claims that the Duterte administration ordered the AFP to stop patrolling the West Philippine Sea should first be validated.
Sotto said that unless verified by the government, the information cited by Alejano is considered “hearsay.” (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza, Francis T. Wakefield, Roy C. Mabasa, and Raymund F. Antonio)