By Wilnard Bacelonia

Senator Joel Villanueva (File photo courtesy of Senate PRIB)

MANILA – Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva on Monday filed a resolution strongly condemning China’s unprovoked aggression, continued harassment, and illegal actions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In Senate Resolution No. 980, Villanueva said China’s actions violate the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling and threaten Filipinos, the Philippine national security, and marine resources.

“The foregoing acts of aggression and the Chinese government’s response display a pattern that has been consistently employed by China, notwithstanding the PCA Award and the provisions of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). As in previous incidents, the People’s Republic of China has continued to ignore the PCA Award and deny the harassment and intimidation claims of the Philippines,” he said.

On March 23, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that the Chinese Coast Guard harassed and used water cannons against the wooden resupply boat that was en route to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, causing injuries to its crew members.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources also reported that a group of Filipino scientists near Pag-asa Island was harassed on the same day when a Chinese helicopter hovered closely above them.

“China’s actions and response to the recent incident in the West Philippine Sea are concerning, considering the agreements reached between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and President Xi Jinping in San Francisco last November 2023 to ease and manage tensions, and the discussions during the 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea last January 17, 2024 wherein both sides agreed to calmly deal with incidents through diplomacy and committed to avoid escalation of tensions in the Ayungin Shoal,” Villanueva said.

He noted that while President Marcos already directed concerned agencies and instrumentalities to implement a “response and countermeasure package,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and other agencies should exhaust all legal and diplomatic mechanisms to end China’s aggression and protect Philippine sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said BRP Sierra Madre should not be removed in Ayungin Shoal, following revelations of a supposed “gentleman’s agreement” between former president Rodrigo Duterte and China to maintain the status quo in the WPS.

“The BRP Sierra Madre should remain on Ayungin. Our troops have been risking their lives to guard that ship. Huwag nating balewalain ang hirap at sakripisyo nila (We should not ignore their hardships and sacrifices),” Hontiveros said in a statement on Monday.

“More importantly, the current chief executive (President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.) has rescinded any concession that was made to China,” she added.

Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a recent interview, said Duterte’s so-called gentlemen’s agreement with China called for the Philippines to refrain from constructions and installations in the WPS, but clarified that it was just verbal and should not apply under the administration of President Marcos.

Hontiveros, nevertheless, criticized Duterte for “prioritizing” his relationship with China over the Philippines’ national interest.

“Duterte also never accorded our 2016 Arbitral Award its much-deserved respect and reverence,” she said.

Reason, not emotion, should prevail

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos on Monday said the country should engage in proper talks with China and other claimants in the WPS through “prevalence of reason and not emotion.”

In a statement, the senator said the government should encourage its citizens to “take the path of peace and understanding.”

Maging matatag tayo sa gitna ng hamon na ito, ngunit dapat manaig ang kalmadong pag-iisip, mahinahong pananalita, at kalkuladong mga desisyon (Let us be strong in the midst of this challenge, but calm thinking and speech, and calculated decisions, should prevail),” she said.

Nagsisimula ito sa maayos na pakikipag-usap sa China at iba pang mga bansang claimant din ng mga isla at iba pang features sa West Philippine Sea (It starts with proper talks with China and other countries that are also claimants of islands and other features in the West Philippine Sea),” she added.

If emotional approach will continue to prevail, she warned that this would lead the country “to a dangerous path that will cost us more than just Filipino pride.”

“To prevent yet another regional conflict, what we need instead are solutions for peace from those who claim to be our genuine allies. Even declarations of support lack credibility where a rules-based international order is loudly invoked amid the mute refusal to ratify the UNCLOS,” she said. (PNA)