Amid the bickerings and stark differences in their style of governance, upholding peace emerged as the common primary concern of all Philippine presidential candidates if given the chance to rule in resolving the country’s festering maritime row with China.
During the third and final presidential debate on Sunday at the University of Pangasinan in Dagupan City, all five of the candidates eyeing the presidency opted for diplomacy as a more viable solution to the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute that is also a long-standing issue with a few other Asian countries.
In favoring diplomacy, however, Sen. Grace Poe pointed out that the South China Sea is not a personal aquarium of China and, if elected President, she said she will make sure Filipino fishermen will be able to fish freely in the area without being bullied by China.
Her administration, according to Poe, will provide enough patrol boats that can be used by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to respond to the local fishermen who need assistance.
She said the government would also provide communication equipment for fishermen for them to be able to call the PCG in case they have emergencies or they are being harassed by other foreign fishermen.
This was the senator‘s response to a question raised by a fishermen from Pangasinan who was “bullied” by the Chinese Coast Guard while fishing in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
But aside from providing PCG and fishermen with necessary equipment, Poe said she will also asked allies of the Philippines to prove that they are really the country’s friends and provide assistance to Manila.
“We can ask them [foreign allies]for help without giving away our sovereignty. But we also have to fight for our territory,” she added.
Aside from protecting the fishermen, Poe said her administration will ensure provide scholarships for their children and additional fishing boats for those who do not have one.
On top of diplomacy, Miriam Defensor-Santiago said, legal means would also help not only in asserting the Philippines’ fishing rights in the contested waters but also in possibly ending the sea row itself.
Kung andiyan sila sa ating katubigan at kinukuha pa ang isda natin, katulad ng sinabi ko nang Immigration Commissioner ako, tatawagin ko ang Coast Guard, bombahin ko yung mga yun [If they are in our waters and are taking our fish, like I said when I was Immigration Commissioner, I will call the Coast Guard and bomb them],” she said, eliciting applause from the audience.
The country, according to the senator, should talk with China and tell it that world public opinion is behind the Philippines in upholding its sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Santiago reiterated the importance of diplomacy.
“E napakadaling sabihin na igyera natin ang Tsina. E kung matalo ang Tsina at nag-surrender silang lahat, ano ipapakain natin sa kanila [It is easy to suggest to go to war to with China. If China loses and they all surrender, what will we feed them?],” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Chia has a population of over one billion.
Vice President Jejomar Binay plans to first negotiate with China to let Filipinos conduct fishing in the West Philippine Sea.
But while talks are ongoing, he said, he will provide assistance to fishermen.
“Naiintindihan ko ang hirap na dinadanas niyo [I understand the suffering you’re going through],” Binay told Carlo Montehermozo, a fisherman from Infanta, Pangasinan.
“Pero habang naguusap-usap pa e pipilitin ko na kayo… ay mabigyan ng puhunan para ho kayo ay magkaroon livelihood [But while negotiations are ongoing, I will push that… you will be provided capital so that you can have livelihood],” he said.
While war with China is not an option for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, he still will force the Philippine claim in the disputed sea if Manila wins its arbitration case against China and Beijing will not comply.
He said he will go to China and, repeating his earlier statement, and he will ride a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag in the Spratlys, an island chain claimed by Manila.
“And I will say, this is ours and do what you want with me, bahala na kayo [I don’t care] . I will state that claim… Matagal ko na ambisyon yan na maging [It has been my dream to be a] hero. Pag pinatay nila ako dun, bahala na kayo umiyak dito [If they kill me there, cry for me if you like],” Duterte said.
To push its claim, the Philippines, however, should present documents proving that the country own the islands it is fighting for.
Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd promised permanent aid for fishermen who are being bullied by Chinese poachers within the exclusive economic zone.
Taking a swipe at Duterte, Roxas said the presidency is not a game or a pingpong match, laughing off the mayor’s plan of riding a jet ski to China.
On the domestic front, he promised to deliver by 2022 “ten million more jobs in factories, call centers, construction due to tourism [investments].
“Crimes will be solved in accordance with the law, not violence,” Roxas said, in another dig at Duterte, who had promised to eradicate crimes in the country within six months.
In addition for the harassed fishermen, according to the LP presidential candidate, “You will have automatic 4Ps inclusion, scholarships for your your children.”
4Ps is the Conditional Cash Transfer Program for the poorest of the poor households in the country wherein a certain family gets at least P1,400 a month provided that they comply with conditions promoting human development goals such as sending their children to school, having a pre-natal check-up in state-accredited health centers, deworming sessions for children and attending family development sessions.
Roxas pushed for the creation a new government agency that will put the Department of Transportation and Communications and Department of Public Works and Highways under one roof to decongest traffic.
“The agency that builds the roads and builds the rail system should be under one agency so that there will be coherence in future plans,” he said.
Prior to the debate, Roxas’ son Paolo vouched for his father before Roxas’ supporters in a viewing party fronting the debate venue.
“Sila po madrama, parang kawawa, pero ang lamang po ni Dad ay plataporma [All the others are into drama, being pitiful, but my Dad’s advantage is his platform],” Paolo said.
Duterte promised a peaceful country if he is elected President, saying he would deliver a “clean government.”
He urged Filipinos to look beyond his cuss words and blunders, saying he would “correct certain injustices” in the country.
“I am presenting myself as a candidate… I would like to correct certain injustices in this government, but I can assure you that it will be a clean government and you will have a peaceful country,” Duterte said in his opening statement.
“If you listen to my epithets and my curses and my, you know, bad words, look at my back,” he said, adding that there are many Filipinos “on bended knees, hungry and mad in this country.”
According to him, he has many plans to improve the lives of Filipinos, joking that he is even willing to copy the plans of his fellow candidates such as Poe and Santiago.
Duterte reiterated his vow to end criminality and illegal drugs in the first few months of his administration.
“Of course I said drugs, which is my main target, I hope to suppress them,” the mayor said.
LLANESCA T. PANTI, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, CATHERINE S. VALENTE, REINA TOLENTION AND JAIME PILAPIL