Senate to investigate Chinese incursions in Scarborough Shoal
MANILA, Philippines — With the Philippine sovereignty at stake, the Senate is flexing its muscles by holding an inquiry starting Friday into China’s incursions into the West Philippine Sea, known to the rest of the world as the South China Sea.
“We should protect our maritime security, which also means food sustainability and environmental security. Let’s protect it at all cost,” said Sen. Loren Legarda, the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, in a phone interview on Monday.
The focus of the inquiry would not just be maritime defense, but also environmental security and protection of maritime resources and livelihood of the fisherfolk, she said.
“But force should never be an option,” Legarda emphasized, even as she called on China to “respect our territorial integrity and sovereignty” by “preventing and avoiding any incursion into our territory.”
Instead of a “shooting war” and “show of force” between Chinese and Philippine Navy and Coast Guard vessels, Legarda said the Philippines should “exhaust all diplomatic means.”
The committee is still drawing up the list of resource persons, although it is clear that Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials and experts in international law will be summoned to the inquiry.
Legarda supported a proposal by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to submit for UN arbitration the territorial disputes over the Spratlys and Panatag Shoal with China, a move spurned by Beijing, which favored bilateral negotiations.
“We have rights to our territory, right to file a diplomatic protest and note verbale, and to issue a statement. Which is what we’ve been doing. We should internationalize both disputes,” she said, adding:
“There is no other way but to resolve these disputes through conventions that we have ratified and to which we are party to. Bajo de Masinloc cannot be resolved on a bilateral basis because we … own it, and another country, which is bigger than us, has incursions into our territory,” she said, referring to Panatag, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal.
“So definitely it could be addressed through the international arena, and that’s why we should refer to previous conventions, which we are party to.”
Legarda slammed “the poaching and theft of maritime resources like coral and endangered species” by Chinese fishermen.
“We must protect the integrity of our environment, especially marine resources which are rightfully ours. Maritime security is not just defense and security, but also entails environmental security and protection of resources as well as economic resources.”
She noted that at stake at the Panatag Shoal was the “livelihood of fishermen and people that benefit from harvest of the sea.”
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