Hontiveros to DFA: lead talks with ASEAN on WPS dispute

Published May 11, 2021, 1:15 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday, May 11 urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to lead discussions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding the prolonged presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Hontiveros said the DFA should start actively reaching out to other ASEAN member states that also have claims in the South China Sea (SCS), such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to strengthen the Philippine’s rights on its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the WPS region.

The senator said it would also be to the country’s advantage if the Philippines and Indonesia strengthen its bilateral ties considering that it is the only ASEAN member state that has publicly acknowledged the country’s 2016 victory at The Hague.

“Let’s gather forces one by one. While the ASEAN as a union cannot yet enforce a policy that could push China to follow international law, let’s not stop building and strengthening alliances with those we know unambiguously contest China’s excessive claims in the entire SCS,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“Let’s do everything we can before it’s too late. We need to keep asserting and reasserting our rights. Our claims can only be made stronger if ASEAN has a uniform, consistent and solid message: China pack up and get out,” she said.

Hontiveros cited that a report by the geo-intelligence firm Simularity showed that over 200 Chinese vessels are still in the disputed waters as of May.

According to Simularity’s CEO Liz Derr, seven ships were spotted over Julian Felipe Reef on May 3, 150 ships over Hughes Reef and another 50 ships on Gaven Reef—all areas are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Nakailang diplomatic protests na tayo, hindi pa rin tuluyang napaalis ang Tsina (We have already filed so many diplomatic protests, yet China still refuses to leave). Every time a diplomatic protest is lodged, a stronger action point among Southeast Asian nations should go along with it,” she pointed out.

“We have a very capable DFA, which is why I trust that through proactive collaboration and sheer political will, we would be able to convince other countries in the region to help us keep pressuring China,” she reiterated.

The lawmaker further said it is imperative that the Philippines should not be the only one that must be speaking against China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea issue.

“Dapat malakas na manindigan na rin ang ASEAN. Manguna na ang DFA na makipag ugnayan sa mga bansa sa ASEAN (The ASEAN should have a firm stand about this issue. Our DFA should initiate and lead in discussing this with other ASEAN countries),” she stressed.