Strong stand vs China urged

MANILA — Even as Malacañang opted to remain cautious on Beijing’s latest policy ordering its naval forces to “board and search” ships entering the contested waters in the West Philippine Sea, the more “hawkish” lawmakers voiced a strong stand on the issue, as they pressed the government to take appropriate action against “China’s latest provocation.”

Overseas, reports said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, an Indonesian, said Beijing’s latest action was a very serious turn of events and could escalate the tension in the region.

Pitsuwan said it was important to exercise restraint and approach the new development with a level head.

President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, ordered the Foreign Affairs Department to verify the report on Beijing’s action.

Mr. Aquino said he had asked the Foreign Affairs Department to check if Beijing’s alleged new maritime policy has been adopted officially or was just a proposal from the leadership of Hanan province, which has direct control of Sansha City, a newly-built city located near the West Philippine Sea.

According to the China Daily, it was the Hanan government which issued the new policy, which will take effect on January, 2013.
The President had said that the report may also have been exaggerated.

“It can also accelerate our bringing of our claim to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea,” said Mr. Aquino, referring to Manila’s long-held position that the dispute should be solved multilaterally before an international body.

He added that it would be very difficult to implement Beijing’s new policy, because it would be a violation of the provisions of the United Nations Law of the Sea or Unclos, where China is one of the signatories.

But in a press briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed the new policy, by saying that it was their right to impose a coastal border defense regulation that authorizes China’s law enforcement over foreign vessels that illegally enter the China South Sea.

“Every country has the right to carry out maritime management according to law,” Lei said.

Lei added that Beijing will not pull out its three remaining ships in the Panatag Shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island.

“China has indisputable sovereignty order the islands in the South China Sea. Hangyan Island is China’s inherent territory and there is no sovereignty issue dispute over it,” he said.
He also cautioned Manila to “stop words and deed that will complicate the South China Sea issue.”

In the Senate, re-electionist Senator Gringo Honasan said the country should be ready to defend its sovereign, but only after the government has exhausted all means of trying to resolve the issue peacefully.

“When there’s no more other options left– we had made appeals, we had sought the help of our allies in the international community, we had invoked US treaties and had brought the issue before the Nations, and yet, China has remained bullying us, what else can we do? So, it’s about time we should be prepared to defend our sovereignty and the national territory,” said Honasan.

The former army colonel added that this is the right time for the government to review all bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements like the Visiting Force Agreement, the Mutual Defense Treaty and other treaties and agreements with our Asian neighbors.

“Now is the time for all these treaties,” said Honasan, saying that Manila should ask Washington if it would allow Chinese marines to board our ships and expel them from the waters being claimed by China.

“We should ask the United States through their foreign embassy in the country. We should talk to the US ambassador here (Philippines) if they will tolerate China,” said Honasan.

He added that the US should also tell the world and our allies not to tolerate China’s bullying because they could likely be the next victim after the Philippines.

“We can also go to the United Nations, and ask that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea be observed by China, but this is a protracted process similar to a court where evidence will be presented and heard by both parties. There are lawyers here, the judge, the jury. We need to get good lawyers to defend our case,” said Honasan.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, doubted if China was really serious in claiming ownership of the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Enrile said that if the Chinese were that serious, “they should have imposed a visa to all those who pass through the South China Sea.”

“We are also there. So how’s that? The fact is even America, Japanese, all kinds of ships pass through that sea. How can they say that belongs to them? Under what title recognized by other nations? That is their self-serving claim. As far as we are concerned, we do not recognize it.”

In Congress, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano, Zamabales Rep. Omar Jun Ebdane, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, were one in condemning Beijing’s latest policy and defending the country’s sovereignty, even as they urged the Palace to take the appropriate action.

Albano, an oppositionist said that China’s provocative action should “compel the Philippine government to take the necessary action by filing an international protest.”

“This is enough of bullying,” said Albano. “If we don’t do something about it, tayo ang kawawa dito.”

Ebdane, meanwhile, observed that “either the new Chinese Ministry was “also impotent in controlling their military or the Chinese military was the one really in control of China and not their rulers.”

Ebdane, a member for the majority of the House committee on inter-parliamentary relations, added that the US government should also respond on this new irritant from China.

“It would be best if the US herself would respond to the question,” Ebdane said.

Colmenares, a member for the majority of the House committee on foreign affairs, also agreed that China’s provocation was wrong.

“That is wrong and deplorable because it only increases the tension rather than encourage peaceful resolution,” Colmenares.
“So it is but right that affected countries, including Philippines should not allow this imposition to go unchallenged. But the Aquino government should not stop there. The government should actively campaign for the ASEAN support for the immediate resolution of the issue and also pursue our case at the UNCLOS and the ICJ so that this dispute would finally be settled.”