Minority senators urge govt to assert rights to maritime space, fishing zones in West PH Sea

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MANILA – The Philippines should use its chairmanship of ASEAN at the 31st ASEAN Summit and related summits to rally allies to secure a firmer commitment that China will respect its maritime space and its fisherfolk’s right to fish, as upheld by an international tribunal, opposition senators said Thursday.

“The government exists to protect and serve its people and their interest,” said a statement issued by five senators, noting how China, in flouting international law – and subsequently ignoring the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration – had deprived thousands of Filipinos of their food and access to maritime space, including resources like oil, gas and minerals.

“Over a year ago, the international tribunal decided that China’s nine-dash lines have no effect on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which is about 381,000 square kilometers of maritime space. That’s bigger than the Philippine land area of 300,000 square kilometers. And that maritime space includes fish and other marine life, as well as oil, gas, and mineral resources,” said the minority senators.

“Since before the decision, China has been taking our food. It’s been taking our fish. The government, in behalf of the Filipino people, and especially our fisher folk, should enforce this decision so that our fisher folk can go back to this maritime space and fish.”

Senators Bam Aquino, Frank Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes IV urged the government to “use its ASEAN chairmanship to rally our allies and friends to this end — for our people, for our fisher folk.”

The statement came on the heels of reports that President Rodrigo Duterte – who has cultivated cozy relations with China and declared that while he respected the international ruling and will use it when necessary, he would not risk war – had stopped defense authorities from a plan to build “nipa huts” in a Philippine-claimed island near where Beijing had gone on a reclamation and island-building spree.