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China and the West Philippine Sea: Where Do Presidential Candidates Stand?

How will they make China respect the Philippines?
by Ara Eugenio
Jan 22, 2022
Photo/s: REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo

Four presidential candidates on Saturday stated their positions on the festering dispute between Manila and Beijing ahead of the official kickoff of the campaign for the May 9 elections.

China has long refused to recognize a UN arbitration court's decision that invalidated its vast claims in the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines. It has also built permanent structures over reefs and outcrops in the West Philippine Sea.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte refused to tout the legal victory that was pursued by his predecessor, the late President Noynoy Aquino. Instead, Duterte sought to repair political and economic ties between Manila and Beijing.

GMA News' Jessica Soho asked the candidates what they would do to make China respect the Philippines' rights.

Vice President Leni Robredo

Robredo said she would leverage the ruling to establish a Coalition of Nations that would consolidate power among partner states to counter China. 

"Matagal na akong naglalabas ng statements dito at lagi kong inuulit-ulit na kailangan yung desisyon na ‘yun i leverage na natin. I-leverage natin para makabuo ng Coalition of Nations. Na 'yung Coalition of Nations na mabubuo natin na andaming kumakampi satin because of the arbitral ruling. Pag isahin natin yung coalition of nations para sabay-sabay nating harangin ‘yung ginagawang militarization ng West Philippine Sea.

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‘Yung sakin sobrang tagal na at ang dami nang nangyari even after pinanalo na natin yung kasong ito. And meron tayong armas. Ang armas natin yung ating pinanalunan. And satin eto 'yung armas natin para mahikayat 'yung ibang bansa na tulungan tayo, magkaisa satin para sabay-sabay nating harangin 'yung ginagawang pagsakop ng ating teritoryo."

Sen. Panfilo Lacson

For Lacson, a balance of power among nations with vested interests is needed to defend the West Philippine Sea versus China. 

"Kailangan ituloy 'yun kasi permanent yung ruling na 'yun kaya lang hindi implementable. Kaya kailangan dumulog tayo at magpalakas tayo ng alliances with the militarily strong countries like the United States, European Union countries, Japan, Australia, at marami pa. Balance of power ang kailangan sa West Philippine Sea. Ang foreign policy nakaanchor palagi sa national interest. I-capitalize natin 'yung national interest ng iba't-ibang bansa sa freedom of navigation. Diyan dumadaan 'yung 10-12% ng international trade. So 'dun tayo kumuha ng lakas dahil 'di natin kayang harapin ang Tsina dito.  

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Sen. Manny Pacquiao

Pacquiao said China and the Philippines must engage in multiple dialogues to finally resolve the dispute. 

"Unang-una po ipaglaban natin 'yung karapatan natin. Hindi naman tayo pwede ring magpabully. At kailangan din pag-usapan kung ano yung mga problema kasi hindi po nareresolba ang problema sa isang pag-uusap o dalawang pag-uusap lalong-lalo na pagdating sa usapin na itong West Philippine Sea. Kailangan maraming dialogue, maraming pag-uusap para magkaintindihan. Kasi matagal na iyang problema na 'yan at hindi natin maresolba-resolba kasi walang pong pag-uusap. Mismo sana na hindi dapat isa o dalawang pag-uusap."

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno

As he urged China to acknowledge Hague ruling, Moreno said he would ensure food security of Filipinos, their right to fish and exploit resources in the West Philippine Sea, as well as military's presence in the area.

"In a civilized world, in a civilized time, we are guided by law and order. O eh pabor satin 'yung Hague, o dapat kilalanin nila 'yun. O hindi naman nila kikilalanin pero sisiguraduhin ko muna, first things first, food security. 'Yung mga mangingisda natin, sisiguraduhin ko makakapangisda kayo diyan. Second, hindi na lalawak pa kung anuman 'yung mga nakuha nila habang binabawi natin yung mga nakuha na nila, hindi na sila makalalawak. Third, I will make sure that there is presence of our Armed Forces in that archipelagic area."

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