Students from various law school governments and organizations scored President Rodrigo Duterte’s “inconsistent” stance on the issue over the West Philippine Sea, where Beijing’s incursions have continued.
According to the joint statement from eighteen law schools, Duterte’s “inconsistent” stance “continues to diminish the Philippines’ sovereignty.”
Citing the diplomatic protest filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against China after the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) spotted at least 220 Chinese military vessels about 175 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan on March 20, the organizations said the DFA and Department of National Defense’s continuous efforts to defend Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction have been “hampered by the inconsistency of the government’s stance.”
“Such inconsistencies are bolstered by President Duterte’s own claims that fighting China is a waste of time; and that any form of concrete action would be detrimental to our country’s relations with them,” the statement read.
“While the DND and the DFA strongly pushback against the oppression that China is causing to the country’s sovereign rights, the inconsistent and confusing pronouncements from the Palace have made defending our territorial integrity burdensome,” it further read.
Any detrimental statement from the President and government agencies, whether they mean it or not, put the lives and livelihoods of millions of Filipino families at risk, according to the law students.
“These statements also determine the economic stability and security of our fisherfolk who depend on the natural resources of the West Philippine Sea. The government owes it to all the fisherfolk and all Filipinos and maritime jurisdiction clearly provided under the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] without reserve,” they stressed.
The law students are calling on President Duterte to protect the Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea and to assert itself in the international arena.
“We strongly demand that the government take immediate and unified action to urge China to respect Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction. History has long shown us that taking action to resist various forms of foreign invasion and interference in our lands and seas is not impossible.”
The signatories include Ateneo Law School Student Council, University of the Philippines Student Government, San Beda University Law Student Government, University of Santo Tomas Civil Law Student Council, Arellano Law Student Government, Ateneo Human Rights Center, Ateneo Society of International Law, Ateneo Law Debate and Advocacy Society, Ateneo Law School Choir, LIBERTAS: The Ateneo Society for the Protection of Civil Liberties, The Palladium, Arellano Chiefs’ Environment Society, Arellano Law Academic Society, Arellano Law Forensic Guild, Arellano Law Gazette, Arellano University Law School (AUSL) Handwriting Advocates, AUSL Bar Operations Commission, and AUSL Athletics Society.
Beijing’s claim to the West Philippine Sea, including areas under the Philippine exclusive economic zone, was invalidated in July 2016 by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration following a lawsuit filed by Manila in 2013.
China, however, does not recognize the ruling.
As of May 9, the NTF-WPS has reported around 287 Chinese vessels in the Philippine waters. China earlier said that these fishing vessels are only taking shelter from rough sea conditions.