Crucial show of support

Published November 23, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

FINDING ANSWERS

Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

Yesterday’s front page news in the Manila Bulletin was reassuring.

That countries like Japan, Australia, France, and Germany have expressed support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, certainly boosts the Philippines’ drive to uphold its rights in the West Philippine Sea amid the recent Ayungin Shoal incident.

The expressions of support were made after Philippine supply boats en route to the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as a military outpost on Ayungin Shoal that lies around 105 nautical miles off Palawan and well within our country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), were blocked and water cannoned by Chinese Coast Guard vessels on Nov. 16.

“Japan strongly opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. Compliance with the 2016 Arbitral Award and the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes based on int’l law, UNCLOS, are vital for peace & prosperity for the region,” read a tweet of Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson said in a Twitter post that “Australia has consistently expressed support for UNCLOS, the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award and an open and inclusive region. We continue to work with and support our (Philippine) partners on maritime issues and are concerned with recent destabilizing incidents in the SCS (West Philippine Sea).” “(Germany) and (France) share serious concerns on latest incident caused by three Chinese vessels against two (Philippine) supply boats in #SouthChinaSea. We call to refrain from conduct that endangers stability in #IndoPacific. Firmly support dialogue between stakeholders, on the basis of int’l law #UNCLOS,” Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel of Germany and French Ambassador Michele Boccoz said in a joint statement posted on Twitter.

Of course, it was the United States which first expressed support for our country amid the Ayungin Shoal incident.

“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of this escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability, escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

And what is most reassuring is the fact that Washington reaffirmed “an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under article IV of the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.” While no one was hurt from the water cannon blasts, the incident elicited “outrage, condemnation, and protest” from Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The DFA is right to express outrage and condemnation especially because this seems to be the first time water cannon blasts were used to shoo away Philippine boats despite being well within our EEZ. The behavior of the Chinese deserves even stronger condemnation from the Philippines and its allies, lest China becomes more emboldened to utilize other extreme measures that could lead to violence the next time around.

And many find utterly preposterous the China Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s claim that “two Philippine supply boats trespassed into waters near Ren’ai Jiao of China’s Nansha Qundao without China’s consent.” For Filipinos to be branded as “trespassers” within our own waters is insulting and certainly the height of insolence against a people who seemed to be treated as fools.

The Arbitral Award declared baseless the nine-dash line claim of the People’s Republic of China (PROC) in the South China Sea, and determined that PROC violated the UNCLOS and the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea by building several large artificial islands, massive fishing, bullying of Filipino fishermen, destruction of the environment, among others.

China refuses to recognize and follow the arbitral ruling, despite being an UNCLOS signatory like the Philippines. It continues to disrespect our national dignity, and haul away millions of tons of fish from our EEZ that should have been the rightful catch of our fishermen and much needed meals at the tables of impoverished Filipino families.

Thus, we Filipinos have to stand behind our country’s official position that President Duterte clearly and unequivocally declared before the 75th UN General Assembly: “The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” The rest of the world ought to know that the EEZ around the Philippine archipelago belongs to us, that the arbitral award invalidated China’s expansionist claims in the South China Sea, and that the Chinese bullies are the real trespassers.

It is our sacred duty to uphold what is ours. Because our forefathers fought off powerful invaders, we who are beneficiaries of their sacrifices and victories ought to do no less. We must exhaust all possible means, without resorting to war, to conserve and develop our patrimony. And crucial expressions of support from many countries would give us strength and courage to be relentless in our fight to uphold the majesty of the law.

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