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Independence Day cry: Defend PH waters

MANILA, Philippines — Militant groups pressed the government to assert the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea against Chinese incursions as the nation marked the 121st anniversary of Philippine independence on Wednesday.

Rallies were held in Manila, Makati, Kawit in Cavite, Cebu City and Iloilo City by members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and allied groups who also denounced US interference in the country’s internal affairs.

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Police blocked a march by about 2,000 Bayan members and supporters close to the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard where they held a brief program and torched a mock US flag before heading to the consulate of China in Makati City where they also lit up a mock Chinese flag.

Left-wing groups and nationalist Filipinos have long denounced the United States, which colonized the country after the end of Spanish rule, for continuing to assert its influence on Philippine politics to protect its economic and military interests in the country and the region.

Target of protests

China, too, has increasingly become a target of protests in recent years after reports of Chinese incursions in areas in the West Philippine Sea and island building on seven reefs claimed by the Philippines in the disputed waters.

The President has been under fire for not asserting Manila’s victory in the international arbitral tribunal, which ruled to invalidate China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

Bayan Muna president Neri Colmenares said Chinese forces, including Beijing’s maritime militia and a warship, were blocking Filipino fishermen’s access to the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, “which is clearly Philippine territory.”

“How can we now claim that we are a free country if we allow foreign countries to do this to our country and its people?” Colmenares said in a statement.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte should be made to abandon his foreign policy, which he said was subservient to China.

“This can only happen if majority of the Filipinos would show that we are against the sale of our sovereignty to China. We need to intensify the movement to oppose President Duterte’s acquiescence to allow China’s intrusions,” Colmenares said in Filipino.

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Flag burning in Cebu

About 100 demonstrators in Cebu also burned mock US and Chinese flags to symbolize their “opposition to the continued interference of the US and China,” said Jaime Paglinawan, Bayan chair for Central Visayas.

He said the Philippines did not enjoy economic freedom when foreign investors enjoyed up to 100-percent tax holidays while Filipinos shouldered the burden of “heavy taxes” imposed by the government.

In Iloilo, about 50 Bayan members rallied at Plazoletagay, a key road intersection in the city.

“We have not achieve genuine independence as our economic and political policies are still controlled by foreign powers,” said Elmer Forro, Bayan-Panay secretary general.

Duterte message

The President was supposed to lead the national celebration Independence Day in Lapu-Lapu City, but he skipped the ceremony. Officials gave no explanation.

He was represented by Education Secretary Leonor Briones.

In his Independence Day message released by Malacañang, the President said he wished that the nation’s “dream of a truly independent Philippines—whose people live freely in a secure, stable and prosperous society—will be achieved within our lifetimes.”

He reminded Filipinos that the “tree of liberty blossomed on these lands because it was nourished by the sweat and blood of our patriots, heroes and martyrs.”

In her own message, Vice President Leni Robredo honored the sacrifices of the country’s heroes and urged Filipinos to look back at how the government upheld the country’s sovereignty over the years.

As in previous years, Robredo led the flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremony at Rizal Park in Manila. She was joined by outgoing Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada.

“We have to ensure that we live in one Philippines where everyone progresses. As public servants, it is in our duty to realize this dream for every Filipino: to ensure that everyone is involved and no one is left behind, that everyone has equal opportunities to grow,” the Vice President said.

—With reports from Melvin Gascon, DJ Yap, Jhesset O. Enano, Dale Israel, Nestor P. Burgos and Nestle Semilla

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TAGS: Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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