By Mario Casayuran
Detained opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima on Saturday threw her support behind a measure in the US Senate seeking to impose sanctions on China for illegal and dangerous activities in the South China Sea (SCS), locally referred to as the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
De Lima said she hopes for the swift deliberation of the US bill, especially during these times when China continues to encroach on territory considered by international law as Philippine waters or as part of the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Amid China’s continued military activities on the South China Sea (SCS) that threatens the security of the Philippines and the entire ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region, I hope that this US Senate bill sanctioning China for any illegal activities in the contested waters can be passed into law soon and finally stop China from bullying its neighbors,” she said.
“I thank Senator (Marco) Rubio and other proponents of the measure for reminding us that we need to be steadfast in pressuring China to remove any illegally built facilities and stop any aggressive and unilateral activities in the South China Sea that violate international law,” De Lima, former Justice Secretary during the presidency of Benigno C. Aquino III, added.
Recently, Republican Senator Rubio and Democratic Party Senator Ben Cardin formally reintroduced Senate Bill No. 1634, or the “South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act,” which seeks to impose sanctions on China for the illegal activities in the contested islands in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
Under the measure, the US Secretary of State is mandated to provide Congress with a report every six months, identifying any Chinese person or company involved in construction or development projects in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
The illegal activities highlighted by the bill include land reclamation, building islands, lighthouse construction and the building of mobile communication infrastructure.
The Chinese foreign ministry denounced the said US measure, claiming that the construction of reefs on disputed territory – one of the activities cited in the draft legislation – was “fully within the scope” of China’s sovereign rights.
In a landmark ruling on July 12, 2016, the Hague-based United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) found no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to a “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea but China refused to honor the ruling.
Instead of consistently kowtowing to China, De Lima said the Philippine government should work hand-in-hand with allies, such as Australia, Japan, and the United States, and other ASEAN countries in discussing all possible actions to stop China’s militarization of the South China Sea.
“We cannot continue to allow China to violate the arbitration award and the international rules as it bullies countries like the Philippines,” she said.
De Lima earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 744 proposing for the immediate convening of the National Security Council to determine decisive courses of action on China’s militarization over the SCS.
She also filed Senate Bill No. 2201 declaring July 12 of every year as a “West Philippine Sea Victory Day” in meaningful observance of the country’s arbitration victory against China over the WPS.