Tolentino urges united diplomatic protest vs China’s Coast Guard law

Published January 31, 2021, 3:44 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Philippine government should file a joint diplomatic protest before the United Nations (UN) together with other Southeast Asian countries to protest China’s law allowing its Coast Guard to launch armed attacks against foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Sen. Francis Tolentino (Henzberg Austria/ Senate PRIB)

Administration Sen. Francis Tolentino made the pitch Sunday, the eve of the first day of the implementation of the new law that allows China’s Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels on Feb. 1.

While Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin has already filed a diplomatic protest against the new China Coast Guard law, Tolentino said the Foreign Affairs Secretary should also start calling for an emergency meeting together with other foreign ministers and start formal or informal talks to discuss such moves and other possible options.

“Maybe Secretary Locsin can start suggesting that all claimant nations in the West Philippine Sea – Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam – hold an emergency meeting; even if by Zoom; or any form of virtual meeting.

Because we’re not the only one: Vietnam’s fishermen would also be facing the same threatening actions from China. Taiwan will also face the same thing,” Tolentino said in a radio DZBB interview.

While the Philippines can appeal for help before the UN “unilaterally,” he said filing a joint protest would be stronger.

“A joint protest is stronger, rather than filing a single protest because it would only feature one sentiment only. But if all claimant countries file jointly and simultaneously, that would be stronger,” Tolentino said.

“Hopefully, they (foreign ministers) can discuss it this week,” he said, noting that the law would have a negative impact not only on the livelihood Filipino fishermen, but also on commercial vessels and contracts dealing with energy exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

Tolentino also said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should summon the country’s ambassador to Beijing to explain why if failed to report on these developments to Manila.

Noting the dates prior to the law’s passage, the senator pointed out that China’s National Peoples’ Congress, which only convenes in March, seemingly “rushed” the passage of the new China’s Coast Guard law.

“It was shocking… they prioritized this measure, then they passed it exactly two days before (Joe) Biden was sworn into office (as the new United States President). I was studying the dates (prior to its passage). So Secretary Locsin made the right step (in filing a protest). I guess it would be best if we also summon the Chinese ambassador to explain this issue,” he said.

He said the country could have raised its concerns with China’s Foreign Minister when he arrived in the Philippines early last month bearing news of free COVID-19 vaccines and loans for the Philippines had the Philippine Embassy in China were able to alert Palace officials about the new Coast Guard law beforehand.

The Philippines, he said, could have raised its concerns about the negative implications of the new law to Philippine-China’s bilateral relations with China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the time of his visit in Manila.

“You know, that is part of their job, to alert us. That is why they are there because they are the listening force of the government. I just don’t know if they the lack staff or they just do not have any access to China’s National People’s Congress’ standing committee,” he pointed out.

“I can’t blame them though, but just the same, the only way we can deal with this now, of course, is through a diplomatic route,” he said.

Asked what violations China is committing with the passage of its coast guard law, Tolentino said they are just way too “many.”

“It’s many; because in the first place you are not allowed to threaten or use violence, that is prohibited. Then, of course, there’s our arbitral ruling (in the Hague)… you also cannot invoke the use of force. There are so many violations here, including freedom of navigation…” he pointed out.

As of now, Tolentino said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Department of National Defense (DND) and other agencies should warn Filipino fishermen – especially those coming from Pangasinan, Zambales, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro, and the rest of the eastern seaboard – who will venture out into the coast starting Feb. 1 to be careful and to be alert.

“We really have to be careful. We should also try not to provoke any confrontation,” the lawmaker said.

“With this law, they can also create ‘exclusion zones.’ I called this ‘lockdown’ zones during my privilege speech (last week) because they even plan to corner, so to speak, any ship or vessel they will find within their zones while they investigate. They can also occupy those vessels and arrest those on board. That’s scary,” Tolentino lamented.