As China’s presence grows ever prominent in the West Philippine Sea, discontent is building up among key figures of the Philippine Government, particularly in the Upper House.
The continued expansion of Chinese activities in the WPS – illegal fishing and consistent military exercises – has prompted reactions from two members of the senate chamber – Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao and Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.
On Labor Day, Pacquiao revealed that he wrote to Beijing’s Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian to address China’s continued activities in the disputed WPS, specifically fishing vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef.
In his letter, Pacquiao urged the Chinese government to bring an end to the illegal marine harvests in the WPS, which he says is causing ‘destabilization’ and ‘divisiveness.
“The continuing presence of Chinese ships at the said reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, only creates tension and harbors divisiveness in our region and evidently destabilizing to the international rule of law,” he outlined.
“In line with this, we reiterate our call to your government to promptly withdraw these vessels from our territory. We demand nothing less than for your country to respect our sovereignty,” Pacquiao added.
Meanwhile, Lacson has called for ‘unity’ between the country’s executives to resolve the matter at hand. This was, in particular, a response to a recent volatile exchange between ex-Justice Antonio Carpio and President Rodrigo Duterte on who’s to blame for the current situation in the WPS.
“Isn’t it sad and ironic that the WPS issue has degenerated into a finger-pointing argument between ex-Justice Antonio Carpio and President Duterte and not between the Philippines and China? Don’t you just want to cry, Philippines?” Lacson wrote on Twitter.
According to Lacson, the constant ‘bickering’ and ‘finger-pointing’ of top officials is a ‘national weakness’ that China can exploit to gain an advantage.
“The sad irony is that instead of Filipinos helping each other, our leaders bicker on the issue of the West Philippine Sea. We should have a united position. Otherwise, we are just showing our weakness, one that China could exploit,” he shared in a radio interview.
In acknowledgment of the concerns, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana has assured that the Philippines’ patrols in the WPS will continue.
“Defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas,” Lorenzana said in a video posted on his Facebook page.
Although China is more capable in the military sense, Lorenzana stressed that this will not be an issue when it comes to protecting the country’s sovereignty.
“This does not prevent us from defending our national interests and our dignity as a people with all that we have,” he emphasized.
“Thus the conduct of maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea, in Kalayaan Islands by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will continue,” Lorenzana added.
You can watch Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s full statement below.