Senators stand behind Lorenzana, demand that Chinese ships leave

Philippine senators threw their support behind Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in demanding that Chinese military leave Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea. 

On Monday, April 5, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said Filipinos “should stand foursquare” behind Lorenzana for defending the country’s sovereign rights in the face of increased Chinese militarization in the West Philippine Sea.

The West Philippine Sea is a part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines, but which China insists on claiming as its own.

“Filipinos should stand foursquare behind DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for making known his strong position in defending our country's sovereign rights over the Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef) – and before that, the Mischief Reef, occupied by the Chinese during the period 1994-1995 and the Scarborough Shoal, which China cordoned off in 2012,” Lacson said.

Lacson pointed out that Lorenzana’s actions all have legal basis under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling that junked China's expansive claim over the South China Sea. 

“A sad reality is that while the ruling is permanent, it is unenforceable. The situation is made worse when our country's leaders and foreign policy decision makers resort to acquiescence bordering on implied derogation of our sovereignty,” added the chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, peace, unification, and reconciliation.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said he “fully supports” Lorenzana and urged President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to take a “strong position” against China’s incursion into the West Philippine Sea. 

“It is high time that the country as one nation stand up to China’s continued incursion [into] the West Philippine Sea. By all accounts, it is maritime bullying,” said Drilon. 

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan likewise told China to get its militia out of Julian Felipe Reef, adding that it should “put an end to their dubious and illegal claim” over the Philippines’ sovereign waters.

Lorenzana is now embroiled in a rare word war with the Chinese embassy in Manila after he slammed China’s “appalling” disregard of international law.

China has refused to leave Julian Felipe Reef despite repeated calls by the Philippine government, including a diplomatic protest, to respect its sovereignty.

Forge stronger alliances

Despite the Philippines winning its historic tribunal case against China in 2016, no less than Duterte himself has downplayed this victory numerous times.

Duterte claimed that insisting on the Philippines' legal triumph would only spark war with the regional giant. 

But for Lacson, the Philippines being a “militarily weak” country that cannot match China’s firepower should “compel” the Duterte administration to establish stronger alliances with the country’s Asian neighbors and even with its long-standing western allies like the United States and Europe. 

“Only through a clear message that the presence of ‘balance of power’ in the West Philippine Sea can help us in this regard,” said Lacson. 

This was echoed by Senator Imee Marcos, who said the Philippines should push for a "multi-lateral action" with ASEAN countries to exert more pressure on China.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also said the rest of the world is "catching on to China's gray zone smokescreen."

"How long will it keep using 'civilian' vessels to pursue military activities in our EEZ? A strategy based on lies and deception does not always make one sublime; sometimes, it also exposes one as lying,” said Hontiveros.

The convenors of the newly formed 1Sambayan coalition also urged Filipinos – regardless of their political affiliation – to stand up to China and defend the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

The coalition said it is “strongly” supporting the “firm and principled stand” of Lorenzana and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr against the Chinese encroachment in Julian Felipe Reef.

“All patriotic Filipinos, regardless of political affiliation, should unite as one in the defense of our sovereign territory and sovereign rights,” said 1Sambayan in a statement.

The coalition is led by the powerhouse trio of retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and ex-foreign secretary Albert del Rosario – the country’s champions in defending the West Philippine Sea against Chinese invaders. 

Other convenors include La Sallian Brother Armin Luistro, retired rear admiral Rommel Jude Ong, lawyer Howie Calleja, former Negros Occidental governor Lito Coscolluela, former Commission on Audit commissioner Heidi Mendoza, Partido Manggagawa chair Renato Magtubo, and Ricky Xavier of the People’s Choice Movement.

Malacañang said Duterte has already raised the Hague ruling and discussed the presence of the Chinese ships near Julian Felipe Reef during a recent meeting with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.  – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

image