Ex-Senate head urges gov’t to assert rights over disputed isles
Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged Malacañang on Tuesday to be a “little more aggressive” in asserting Manila’s claim to Philippine Rise and to islands in the West Philippine Sea that it was disputing with Beijing.
“Let us not close our eyes that China is really trying to expand its power and influence and we should not allow that at our expense. Let us fight for what is right in accordance with peaceful ways guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” he told reporters in the Senate.
Pimentel’s remarks came a day after presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines did not have sovereignty in Philippine Rise, just the “right to explore and exploit natural resources found there.”
Formerly known as Benham Rise, Philippine Rise is a 13-million-hectare undersea plateau off the coast of Aurora province in eastern Philippines that the United Nations has recognized as part of the country’s continental shelf.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently allowed China to do maritime research in Philippine Rise.
Three others allowed
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, speaking in Capas, Tarlac province, on Tuesday, said China’s research project did not undermine the Philippines’ sovereignty because the government had also allowed the United States, Japan and South Korea to do similar studies in Philippine Rise.
The government, Cayetano said, approved only two research applications from China but approved 13 from the United States, nine from Japan, and four from South Korea.
Roque said the administration allowed China to explore Philippine Rise because exploration was quite expensive and no Filipino group had come forward with an application for research there.
“No one [in the Philippines] has applied and no one can do it because, apparently, it’s capital intensive,” he told reporters.
Pimentel raised Manila’s claim to Philippine Rise and the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea—waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea—when he spoke at a hearing called by the Senate subcommittee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“We would like to emphasize Scarborough Shoal is ours, Kalayaan is ours and that Benham Rise is within our exclusive economic zone as defined by Unclos,” Pimentel said.
Scarborough Shoal is the international name of Panatag Shoal, a resource-rich fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province that China has grabbed from the Philippines.
Kalayaan is a group of islands occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly archipelago that China also claims.
China claims almost all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters near the shores of the Philippines and other claimants to territory in the waterway—Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
“I’m not against befriending China. We should befriend China but we should not give up our territory like Scarborough, that’s ours and so [are] the [Kalayaan] Islands,” Pimentel said in a talk with reporters after the hearing. —With reports from Philip C. Tubeza and Gabriel Cardinoza
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