Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday renewed her call for the Duterte government to pursue an independent foreign policy and reassert ownership of Philippine territories amid the growing international consensus against China’s excessive and unlawful territorial incursions.
Hontiveros said it is imperative that the government ensures that the country’s maritime resources are intact in order to protect Filipino fishermen who depend on the West Philippine Sea for livelihood.
“Government must ensure that what is ours remains ours. The potential loss of the West Philippine Sea is tantamount to the loss of livelihood for Filipino fisherfolk who depend on these resources,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“Lalo na at may pandemya, dapat may seguridad ang hanapbuhay ng bawat Pilipino, (Especially during a time of a COVID-19 pandemic, the livelihood of each Filipino should be secured),” the senator stressed.
The United States earlier released a position paper criticizing Beijing for using intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states and assert unilateral authority in the South China Sea.
Hontiveros said US’ pronouncement is a welcome development as “it’s becoming clear that only China recognizes the so-called ‘nine-dash line,’ a self-serving declaration that has no legitimate basis.”
“We must be able to work with like-minded countries, especially our allies in Southeast Asia to defend our sovereign rights and to ensure that our fisherfolk continue to enjoy access to our own waters,” she said.
But while the Philippines is dealing with China on the West Philippine Sea issue, the country could become caught in a strategic tug of war between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific Initiative.
“Small countries like the Philippines are often stuck between competing interests of giants,” Hontiveros lamented.
“As the US and China further their own interests, the government should not allow these superpowers to use the Philippines as a pawn in furthering their own agendas,” she pointed out.
“We are our own country. Atin ang Pinas (The Philippines is ours). We should have the full right and power to protect our land, seas, and people,” she reiterated.
Hontiveros said reaffirming both the country’s independent foreign policy and adherence to rules-based international order is the only way to resolve conflicts without the use of armed force.
“And crucially, (that is) the only way to ensure that our fisherfolks have access to our exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” according to the lawmaker.
“Sa huli, ang ordinaryong mamamayan ang malalagay sa panganib kung hindi maproprotektahan ang ating mga teritoryo (In the end, ordinary citizens would be the ones thrust in danger if we do not protect our own territories),” she said.
“Hindi lang soberanya ng bansa ang mawawala, pati narin pamumuhay at dignidad ng mga Pilipino (Not only would the country lose its sovereignty, Filipinos could also lose their livelihood and dignity),” she warned.