HONG KONG — Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday made use of the Philippines’ arbitration win in the West Philippine Sea against China to emphasize the courage and nationalism of 2 Otso Diretso candidates during a public campaign rally in this special administrative region controlled by Beijing.
Some Filipino migrant workers who gathered along Chater Road cheered as Robredo described former solicitor general and opposition senatorial bet Florin Hilbay as one of the lawyers who helped the Philippines win its case against China at the Hague.
“Isa siya sa mga nagpanalo ng kaso natin sa West Philippine Sea. Napakagaling na abogado,” Robredo said.
Former Marine captain and senatorial hopeful Gary Alejano also defended the Philippine territorial waters while he was a member of the House of Representatives, she said.
In 2015, the Philippines disputed China’s sweeping claim in the West Philippine Sea by lodging a case before an international arbitration tribunal.
On July 2016, the Hague unanimously ruled in favor of Manila, saying “there was no legal basis” for Beijing “to claim historic rights to resources” in the strategic waterway.
READ: Hague tribunal’s ruling on West PH Sea
The country’s historic win against the Asian superpower was never asserted under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration as the former Davao mayor sought to forge closer ties with China.
Discussing the Philippines’ Hague victory is a “vital” selling point for overseas Filipino workers here, said Hong Kong-based researcher James Rice, who conducted a 2018 study on the psyche of migrant workers.
“Basically everyone who spoke to me in the survey told me they don’t approve of China, that they believe that the West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines, that they believe in the ruling of the international tribunal,” Rice told ABS-CBN News.
“The trouble is they did not understand or they did not know what Duterte’s policy was so there was a disconnect between those two things,” he said.
“I think it’s vital, it’s absolutely essential that they do [discuss the issue]. It would certainly resonate,” he said.
Hilbay and Alejano, both suffering from low voter awareness, had been capitalizing on the West Philippine Sea issue to rally support from voters in Manila, but the country’s youngest solicitor general said its mention in the Hong Kong sortie was “only incidental.”
The Otso Diretso slate discussed the arbitration win to OFWs who asked about it, but the rally was not mounted “to pit Philippines against China,” Hilbay said told ABS-CBN News.
“There is a way to talk about them without raising diplomatic issues,” he said.