Kalayaan, a town defended by PNoy in WPS, is in mourning

Published June 25, 2021, 1:48 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The local government unit (LGU) of Kalayaan in Palawan mourned on Friday, June 25, the passing of former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, a staunch defender of the country’s territory in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The flag of Kalayaan, Palawan is flown at half-staff to mourn the passing of former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III. (Photo courtesy of Kalayaan LGU Facebook page)

In a Facebook post, the Philippine flag at Kalayaan town is seen flown at half-staff in honor of the late Aquino, the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines who fiercely defended the country’s claims in the WPS by taking China to international court in 2013.

“We join the entire nation in mourning the passing of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. We will never forget how he confronted China in the international tribunal over the West Philippine Sea issue,” Kalayaan Mayor Roberto Del Mundo was quoted as saying in the post.

Aquino passed away around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, June 24, due to renal disease that arose from his diabetes. He was 61.

Kalayaan town, which literally translates to “freedom,” includes Pag-asa (Thitu) Island and is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratly Islands) in the WPS. It is located 280 nautical miles northwest of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

One of Aquino’s legacies was him leading the country’s historic victory over China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Hague, The Netherlands in July 2016. The international court ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea, nullifying China’s nine-dash line claim in the process. The WPS is located in the South China Sea.

The long and hard-earned battle started when the Philippine Navy (PN) spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels that were anchored and allegedly conducting illegal fishing at Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, which is about 220 kilometers from Zambales, on April 8, 2012.

It resulted to a standoff between the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which was sent to arrest the fishermen, and Chinese maritime surveillance ships, which blocked them.

In 2013, the national government filed a case against China at the PCA to protest Beijing’s intrusion in the Philippines’ waters–a gutsy move considering that the East Asian giant’s power and influence.

The PCA ruling came on July 12, 2016, just a few weeks after Aquino finished his term and stepped down as president. The arbitral ruling produced a powerful document for the Philippines, which it can use as a basis to assert the country’s rights in the WPS.

Beijing, however, has never recognized the ruling. President Duterte, Aquino’s successors, has since led a friendlier stance toward China.

“Salamat (Thank you), PNoy!” Del Mundo further wrote in Kalayaan’s tribute post.