by MATTHEW DAVE JUCOM
VICE PRESIDENTIAL aspirants Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said strengthening treaties and alliances would help assert the country’s right over the West Philippine Sea.
Pangilinan said the Philippines should heigthen its relationship with the neighboring ASEAN countries and other countries concerned about China’s aggression to strengthen its position against the “illegal and fake reclamation” of China on Philippine borders.
“We will have to engage with ASEAN—Indonesia [and] Vietnam. They are also concerned about the aggression of China. We should align with ASEAN neighbors who, together, we can strengthen our position that this aggression is not right. The US, Australia, Japan are also concerned about this nine-dash line illegal and fake claim,” Pangilinan said Saturday, during the CNN Philippines’ vice presidential debate.
Several nations in the Southeast Asian region have been in a continuous territorial dispute with China, including the Philippines despite The Hague ruling.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized the country’s exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and declared China’s “historic rights” or the 9-dash line claim invalid as it lacked a legal basis.
Given the long-standing dispute, Pangilinan said he would order the navy and coast guards to diligently patrol and defend the country’s sovereign waters and livelihood of the fishermen.
“Dapat i-resume ‘yung patrol. Dapat i-resume ‘yung coast guard para ‘pag naroon ‘yung ating mga mangingisda, mayroon silang takbuhan,” Pangilinan said.
“That is energy security dahil maraming oil diyan at gas reserves. That is food security dahil maraming isda diyan at aquamarine resources. Ipaglaban natin ang arbitral ruling dahil atin ang West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sotto said he would strengthen the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US to protect the nation from China’s aggression.
He added that the root cause why the Philippines can hardly defend itself from China is because of the unclear locations of the maritime zone.
“Wala tayong maritime zone, hindi maliwanag, that’s why I filed the bill (Senate Bill 2289) to make it clear,” Sotto said.
Sotto filed the bill in early June last year, seeking the creation of a map on the Philippine maritime zone, which is similar to China’s nine-dash line, that would help in legally defining and identifying the Philippine borders. However, the bill is still waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature.
Former house representative Walden Bello, however, argued that the Philippines needs to have a foreign independent policy to assert rights over its territorial waters.
“Papasok na lang daw ang MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty). Hindi maaari yan. We have to have an independent foreign policy,” Bello said.
But Sotto remained firm in his stance to follow the treaty.
“We have a treaty. We have an agreement. If there is aggression made in the maritime zone, the Mutual Defense Treaty comes in. There is no one being invited here. Anong gusto natin, hindi tayo papalag? Bubukaka tayo?” Sotto said. F