By Mario Casayuran
Senator Richard J. Gordon welcomed Wednesday a Senate floor debate on multi-faceted maritime and military issues surrounding conflicting territorial claims over parts of the South China Sea.
Gordon thanked neophyte Senator Francis Tolentino for triggering the debate when he defended President Duterte’s verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that Chinese fishermen could catch fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the Senate, a treaty-ratifying body, cannot act on the mere verbal agreement between two heads of state.
The debate, according to Gordon, ‘’reflects our thinking’’ on these issues triggered by the refusal of China to accept or honor the 2016 ruling of the United Nations Arbitration Court rejecting China’s territorial claim over most parts of the South China Sea and favoring the Philippine territorial claim.
The Senate debate on the issues would be more objective compared to their being discussed at the halls of Malacañang or media, particularly radio interviews that could at times be incendiary.
Some of the latest issues are the ‘’confrontation’’ between Vietnam and China over their fishing rights and the passage at the Sibutu Strait, a Philippine territory, by China’s carrier, Liaoning.
The Tolentino privilege speech was referred to the Senate foreign relations committee chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, a Duterte ally and president of the pro-administration Partido Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP)-Laban party.
At one point, Drilon, a former Senate President and former Justice secretary put Tolentino into a corner when he said he is a mere lawyer and not a legal luminary as painted by Tolentino.
Gordon said the Philippines has no brief against China which is the country’s neighbor that is a powerful military force.
He said what is disturbing is that both China and Vietnam have militias in their fishing vessels.
The Chinese vessel that earlier rammed a Filipino fishing boat but refused to help the fishermen was thought to be a fishing boat with Chinese militias on board.
Gordon said Philippine fishing boats should have GPS and modern communications so that developments in or near Philippine territories are made known to the government.
The Philippines continues modernizing its Navy and coast guard.