Filipinos reject Duterte's passive stance on maritime dispute with China
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the 28th anniversary of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Quezon City, east of Manila, Philippines, Jul.12, 2019. EPA-EFE/ROLEX DELA PENA
By Sara Gomez Armas
Manila, Jul 12 (efe-epa).- An overwhelming majority of the Filipinos reject the president’s unassertive approach in reclaiming resource-rich territories held by China in South China Sea, despite the Philippines’ legal victory in the maritime dispute at an international tribunal three years ago, according to a survey result published on Friday.
The poll done by private entity Social Weather Survey has found that some 93 percent of the Filipinos considered it important for the country to regain control of these territories.
Some 87 percent of the people surveyed believe that President Rodrigo Duterte’s government must assert Philippines’ rights recognized in The Hague court’s ruling, according to the survey, which was done three years after the court ruled in favor of Manila.
The court on July 12, 2016 gave the Philippines’ its rights over the resource-rich territories, including Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly archipelago, where China has built military bases on artificial islands, taking its de-facto control.
The area is of great geo-strategic importance as one-third of the global trade is shipped through it and has 12 percent of the global fishing resources.
The Energy Information Administration of the US estimates that the region has 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in probable reserves.
As the Philippines marked the third anniversary of the international court verdict, hundreds of Filipinos took to the streets on Friday and urged the government to give up its passive approach.
The protesters stood outside the Chinese consulate in Manila and protested against Duterte's concessions given to China allegedly for Beijing’s generous loan offers and investments of billions of dollars in infrastructure development projects of the Philippines.
Duterte has not followed through with the international tribunal arbitration ruling that also rejected China’s claim that it had historic title over the South China Sea waters.
Apparently, the president has avoided confrontation with Beijing because asking it to vacate the held territories or stopping it from its military activities in the region would mean his country facing war with China.
But for many that is an unreasonable argument. They say Duterte can resort to diplomacy and negotiate to assert the Philippines’ territorial rights.
"Duterte is selling our country to China, which is a violation of our constitution and our territorial sovereignty,” said former Congressman Neri Colmenares who leads P1NAS, or People’s Unity for National Sovereignty, which is an alliance of human rights organizations, environmental groups and opposition parties.
P1NAS, which had organized the demonstration in Manila, was set up to create awareness on the territorial dispute. The alliance has been pressing the government to be more assertive in re-claiming the territory lost to the alleged Chinese aggression.
Tensions in the region have increased in the last few months, especially after a Chinese fishing vessel crashed with a Filipino boat on June 9 in the Philippine waters, some 85 nautical miles from the Palawan island.
Vietnamese fishermen came to the rescue of the 22 Filipino fishermen who had gone adrift.
The incident led to outrage in the Philippines. Investigation of the Coast Guard concluded that the Chinese violated maritime laws that led to collision.
However, Duterte downplayed the incidence and said it was a simple maritime accident. He said under a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, China would continue to fish in these waters.
The statement angered maritime experts and opposition leaders.
On Friday, former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario, at a forum to mark The Hague court ruling day at the University of the Philippines, said that "this is to be viewed as a successful Chinese invasion without a shot being fired”.
The June 9 incident came amid increased Chinese military presence in the region. Some 500 Chinese vessels have been spotted in the area in the last few months.
The Pentagon in a report in May said that China “continues to militarize South China Sea by placing anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands and employing paramilitary forces in maritime disputes vis-à-vis other claimants”.