THE Philippines should file a diplomatic protest against China and the United States over their “militarization” of areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), lawmakers said on Sunday.
Party-list Representatives Harry Roque of Kabayan and Gary Alejano of Magdalo made the call following China’s seizure of a United States naval probe—an unmanned underwater vehicle—just 50 nautical miles off Subic Bay, as well as Beijing’s alleged deployment of military equipment in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands.
“I urge the Philippine government to file diplomatic protests against both the United States and China for this invasion of our EEZ. This incident reveals that both China and the US have acted without regard to the rights of the Philippines,” Roque, a former professor of international law, said in a statement.
“The naval probe was found well within the Philippines’ EEZ, over which the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights,” he added.
On Friday, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the Philippines has no power to stop China’s activities in the disputed waters, and that he won’t send a note verbale to protest the alleged installation of weapons systems in the Kalayaan Islands.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said he won’t impose on China and that it was the US that was “egging” conflict in the region.
Proof of independent foreign policy
Roque said that while foreign vessels have freedom of navigation over the EEZs of other states, such acts must be exercised with due regard for the interests of other states.
“The United States should not have conducted probes within our EEZ. Similarly, the act of the Chinese submarine in retrieving the said probe is also suspicious. The Philippines maintains its sovereign claim over various features within the West Philippine Sea and it has no interest in allowing its territory to be used as a battleground between the United States and China,” he said.
Alejano said protesting the intrusion of both foreign powers would prove that the Duterte administration was making good on its push for an “independent foreign policy.”
“We should file the diplomatic protest to register our continuing assertion of our rights in the West Philippine Sea and claims to islands at Spratlys. This will also show our resolve as a country and putting flesh in our independent foreign policy,” he said.
In July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration thrashed China’s “nine-dash line” claim on the entire West Philippine Sea.
The same ruling also outlawed China’s reclamation projects and aggression versus Filipino fishermen. It declared that Filipino fishermen enjoy fishing rights at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and that the Spratly Islands, as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are all within the EEZ of the Philippines.
Abrogate VFA, EDCA
Roque also called on President Duterte to terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, to protect the territorial integrity of the Philippines.
“By abandoning those agreements, we can adopt a position of neutrality, following the footsteps of countries such as Switzerland,” Roque added.
Rep. Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, an ally of Duterte, said China could not be trusted even after the Chief Executive said China has the “kindest soul of all.”
“Our concern is that China is the aggressor, making moves against the Philippines. They are the ones intruding in our islands. It is hard to come to terms that your aggressor will be your friend. How can you assert your claim when you treat the aggressors as allies?” Biazon said in a radio interview.
“The international tribunal has already ruled in our favor. Befriending China could embolden them to exploit our resources located within our EEZ,” he added.