Bicolanos take stand on West PH sea crisis

LEGAZPI CITY—“If we will leave China’s claim unchallenged, our country could lose about 80 percent of its resources-rich Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary and Spokesperson Charles Jose said at a press conference with the media at Hotel St. Ellis here Wednesday last week.

Asec Jose led the information campaign on the West Philippine issue in the Bicol region conducted by the DFA in partnership with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) across the country for the public to better understand the country’s concern behind the disputed territories.

“The Philippines is an archipelago and our economy is dependent on the sea with at least five million Filipinos depending on the waters for their livelihood. So if we will lose the 80%, it’s like stealing our country’s rich resources and stripping livelihood of our people,” he added.

Among the other activities held in the region are a multi-sectoral forum, focused group discussions, campus tour and radio guesting.

Participants in the the activities came from various sectors including the academe, church, government agencies, students and other stakeholders.

The country has filed its case against China over the West Philippine Sea at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) tribunal and has asserted its claim in the oral hearing on July 7.

“We are anticipating to be invited back for another round of hearing on the merits of the trial. We want to settle the issue peacefully and we believe that the case is the most effective and enduring solution to overlapping territorial claims,” he said.

Jose furthered that member countries of the UNCLOS such as US, Japan, Australia and Europe have expressed support to the Philippines to settle issue peacefully and let rule of law prevail.

“Although the decision of the tribunal is binding it has no enforcement power. However should the decision be favorable to the Philippines, it will be binding to both countries as signatories to the UNCLOS. Thus we will rely to the international community to convince China to adhere to the decision,” he noted.

However, even as the country reiterated its claim and is still waiting for the decision of the tribunal, China has pressed ahead with the construction of structures on areas within the Philippine territory claiming their indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea as represented by its nine-dash line claim.

“China structures constructed in the West Philippipne Sea cause massive and irreplaceable damage as coral resources, which took hundreds of years to grow, are dug and destroyed to be used as fillings for their structures,” the DFA Asec said.

Asked on the possibility on engaging into physical confrontation with China, Jose said policies and actions of the government are guided by two principles: settling the issue peacefully and upholding rule of law. Thus war is not an option to resolve conflict.

Furthermore, Jose stressed that the dispute does not sum up the relationship between the two countries noting that they have maintained good diplomatic relations despite the conflict. (by Sally Atento-Altea, PIA)