By LUIS MIGUEL B. ARUCAN
VICE PRESIDENT Leni Robredo stressed that the Philippines must not be afraid of China in asserting its ownership over territories within the West Philippine Sea (WPS) during a forum held June 11.
“[Speaking] up against a major global superpower is intimidating. By size, by headcount by, influence or by military strength, the Philippines may seem small and insignificant, but our people are not,” she said.
“We cannot hand over our sovereignty just because we are afraid. We must assert our claim on the [WPS], but that means each of us must stand united so that we can fight for what is ours,” Robredo added.
The Chinese Coast Guard has reportedly been harassing Filipino fishermen in the WPS despite the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which states China has no historic rights over the area.
“Our own government continues to call the [WPS] as disputed waters and the Philippines as a claimant, [ignoring] the fact that the arbitral tribunal has already ruled in our favor,” Robredo said.
She dubbed China’s occupation of the WPS as “the most serious external threat to our country since the Second World War.”
Also at the event was former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, who said that the Philippines’ ownership of the WPS is no longer a debatable matter.
“Our opinion is no longer just an opinion; it’s a fact. The entitlements are ours. There’s no more dispute in the area. Any claim that China has over the [WPS] would be fake news,” he said.
Hilbay was part of the Philippine legal team that won the 2016 South China Sea arbitration case against China regarding the territorial dispute over the WPS.
Hilbay also criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s strategy of pursuing joint development with China in the area, saying that the Philippines is moving from a “rights regime” to a “permission regime.”
The forum titled West Philippine Sea: Issues and Policy was held at the Malcolm Theater in the University of the Philippines Diliman and was organized by the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership in line with its 10th anniversary. F