Vice President Leni Robredo said on Sunday, May 16, President Duterte should not use the coronavirus pandemic as an “excuse” not to fight for the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking on her weekly radio show, Robredo stressed the president must take a serious stand on the country’s dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
In his last Thursday’s televised address to the nation, Duterte said the COVID-19 pandemic was more urgent than the WPS issue.
A government task force on the West Philippine Sea reported what it said were “incursions” within and outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of 287 maritime militia vessels from China last week.
“Tama naman si pangulo na nasa gitna tayo ng pandemic pero hindi naman gustong sabihin na nasa gitna tayo ng pandemic excuse iyon para hindi natin ayusin iyong ang ating stand (The president is correct that we are in the middle of the pandemic but it doesn’t mean the pandemic would be an excuse not to fix our stand),” Robredo said.
The vice president reiterated that the WPS issue should be taken seriously as the country’s sovereignty and ownership of the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea that China is claiming, are “at stake.”
“Kasi kasarinlan natin iyon, pag-aari natin ang nakataya. Sana hindi daanin sa mga salitang either hindi nagseseryoso, nagbibiro, kung ano pa man na excuse iyong usapin sa West Philippine Sea (It is because our sovereignty, ownership are a stake. I hope it would not be done through words that are either not serious or a joke, whatever excuse on the West Philippine Sea issue),” she said.
Robredo again pressed the need to continuously assert the Philippines’ arbitral tribunal victory against China’s massive claims in the West Philippine Sea in July 2016, a month after Duterte took office.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled that China’s historic nine-dash-line claim is in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China is a signatory of.
China’s nine-dash line, found in ancient Chinese maps, is the basis of its historic claims of the whole West Philippine Sea.
“We can’t deny the value of the arbitral award because it’s a huge win not just for us but to all claimants against China in the South China Sea,” Robredo said.
The vice president has criticized Duterte for his previous remarks that the arbitral ruling was a piece of paper that can be thrown in the trash and China is already in possession of the West Philippine Sea.