Senators have expressed concern over the passage of a law in China that would permit its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels it would perceive as threats to its sovereignty.
In a privilege speech Tuesday, Senator Francis Tolentino raised the possible ramifications of China’s Coard Guard Law to Filipino fishermen who are fishing within the West Philippines Sea, especially that China claims parts of it as its territory.
The law would supposedly take effect on February 1, he said.
“I worry for our fishermen coming from Zambales, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro and the rest of the eastern seaboard who will venture out into that coast, Mr. President,” Tolentino said during the Senate’s plenary session.
“Nakakalungkot po ito, Mr. President. Nakakatakot,” he added.
Tolentino noted that under China’s new law, their Coast Guard will be authorized to take “all necessary measures, including the use of weapons” when they think that their national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisidiction are being “illegally infringed upon by foreign oganizations or individuals at sea”.
The law reportedly would also allow the Chinese coast guard to demolish structures and to board and inspect foreign vessel in waters that they are claiming.
The law would also empower coast guard personnel to create “temporary exclusion zones” to stop the entry of foreign vessels.
China insists on its vast nine-dash-line claim over the South China Sea, portions of which are also claimed by several other Southeast Asian countries.
In July 12, 2016, the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration scrapped China’s claim in favor of the Philippines.
Senator Richard Gordon said the Philippine government should take the China law seriously as this would also put the country’s armed forces and non-government organizations in danger.
“This is something that I think we must not let pass…This is a serious cause of concern. This is a shot in the bow of all the claimants in the [disputed] territories,” Gordon said.
“Here is a gun-boat diplomacy where the coast guard personnel will not be permitted to board our boats. They’re not satisfied with just ramming our boats and leaving them,” he added.
China, he said, should “at the very least explain what its intentions are”, saying the new law could escalate conflicts in the South China Sea.
“We are being led to believe. We have a Chinese neighbor who have been kind to us, they’ve been supportive of us, but the other face of it, has threatened us, even threatened to acquire our own claims that have been there for several years, and is now going to threaten a very volatile atmosphere in these areas,” he also said.
Gordon asked for an executive session from government defense and security officials to brief the Senate about their policies and planned actions about the new law.
“So that the Senate can be guided accordingly so that proper appropriations can be made,” he said.
Tolentino, for his part, cited possible solutions that the Philippines may consider.
“What will be the solutions? I really do not know. Diplomatic front, the ASEAN, perhaps? The new Biden presidency? Direct engagement to the president of the Peoples’ Republic of China? I don’t know Mr. President.”
On Monday, Senators Risa Hontiveros said the Department of National Defense should come up with a strategy “for if and when worse comes to worst”.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said he refuses to believe that the Philippines is a “nation of cowards”, urging the government to reject foreign laws that encroach on the country’s territory.