France reaffirms support for 2016 arbitral ruling
MANILA, Philippines — France has reaffirmed its support for the 2016 arbitral ruling as its embassy in Manila also expressed concern over recent developments in the South China Sea.
“Following the recent incidents in the South China Sea, we express our concern and call for respect for international law and the resolution of disputes through dialogue,” the embassy said in a statement on Monday, in the wake of the latest reported swarming of some 50 Chinese vessels near Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
“We are resolutely opposed to any use of force or threat to do so. We recall, in this regard, the arbitration award rendered under Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) on the 12th of July 2016,” the embassy also said, referring to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling seven years ago this Wednesday, which upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and rejected China’s claims in the disputed waters.
On Friday, the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the presence of at least 48 Chinese vessels at Del Pilar (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal southwest of Recto Bank, all features within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said this development could be the start of China’s occupation of that area.
The PCG earlier reported yet another encounter on June 30 with a China Coast Guard ship, which conducted “dangerous maneuvers” as it blocked a PCG vessel on a resupply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson described China’s “behavior” in that incident “irresponsible,” while Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko called it “dangerous.”
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the maneuvers by the vessel concerned were “professional and restrained,” adding that China was carrying out law enforcement activities on what it called its territory.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said he would examine, during deliberations on the 2024 budget, the country’s maritime defense capabilities and seek updates on the defense establishment’s review of the Philippines’ mutual defense treaty with the United States.
“What we really need from the [Department of National Defense] is how much would it take to get us to adequate readiness. It doesn’t matter what we can afford. We can explore different sources,” said the lawmaker, who heads the House ways and means committee.
“[M]y committee… hopes to support with policy our capability to build ships, and a homegrown defense industry. Every decent military force has one,” Salceda added.
Meanwhile, fishermen in Zambales province who are familiar with harassment by China’s vessels urge the government to assert anew the country’s sovereignty on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the arbitral ruling.
Bobby Roldan, Luzon vice chair of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, said the Marcos administration should be “very concerned” about the long-term damage that China’s trespassing on Philippine waters may cause on fish production in the country.
Fisherman Enosentes Forones, 61, remembered being emboldened to return to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2016 upon learning of the outcome of the arbitral case against China—only to find its ships still there, driving fishermen like him away.
“It is almost like we are thieves now. There was a time that I went there and a Chinese Coast Guard ship surrounded me in a triangle position. It was hard for me to escape. My boat is only made of wood,” he said.
As an old-time fisherman, he remembered “going back and forth [and meeting] fishermen from Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries. And we were happy there even though we didn’t understand each other.”
But all that changed in 2012, when China seized control of the shoal after its repeated trespassing since the 1990s.
Forones said he would still return to Panatag, but this time he had to share his catch with the China Coast Guard.
“We feel bad but we could not do anything. Some of them would board our boats and get our fish, [or] they would use water cannons to drive us away,” he said.
Manny de Jesus, who heads the fishers’ group Samahan ng Mangingisda ng Masinloc, Zambales, said: “Our fear of getting bullied again will never go away as long as the China Coast Guard is at the shoal.”