Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario commended President Rodrigo Duterte for taking a strong stance against perceived Chinese aggression in the disputed South China Sea amid huge presence of its vessels near islands occupied by the Philippines.
“Our President is manifesting his own brand of leadership which in this instance is both appropriate and admirable,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“Let us all be one in standing behind him,” said Del Rosario, who, along with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, filed a case against Chinese President Xi Jinping, accusing him of committing crimes against humanity in connection with Beijing’s activities to gain control over most of the resource-rich South China Sea.
Duterte on Friday threatened to send troops on a “suicide mission” if China should undertake aggressive actions on Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea, particularly Pag-asa Island.
“Let us be friends, but do not touch Pag-asa Island and the rest,” Duterte was quoted as saying at a rally in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
“If you make moves there, that’s a different story. I will tell my soldiers, ‘Prepare for suicide mission’.”
“I’m just telling you that lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there.”
The government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, on Thursday called “illegal” the presence of about 275 Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa island, saying it was an infringement of Philippine sovereignty.
In a related development, Senator Richard Gordon lashed back at China, saying China was not a friend because its actions did not demonstrate the actions of a friend.
“China said they are our friends but a friend does not send hundreds of army, hundreds of navy, does not send hundreds of vessels to harass our fishermen in our territory,” stressed Gordon.
The senator said he was glad Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin already filed a diplomatic protest on March 29.
“If we do not have a strong Navy, if we do not have a strong Army, we will be pushed around by other countries,” Gordon said.
Gordon pointed out that he fought to have 13 percent of the proceeds from TRAIN 1 allocated for the military, on top of the budget from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, to ensure that soldiers will not go to war without the proper equipment.
“It is the military’s duty to protect the integrity of our territory and to protect our country but they would not be capable of doing that without the right equipment. Let us remind our leaders to learn from history. We should follow Japan’s motto—Enrich the country, strengthen the military,” he said.
About 275 Chinese vessels were spotted near and around Pag-asa, which China calls Zhongye, from January to March this year, according to the Philippine military. China said the vessels are civilian ships, mostly fishing boats.
Meanwhile, opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called the Philippines’ unilateral withdrawal from the International Criminal Court as a “self-serving” act that would weaken the Filipinos’ defense against foreign aggression and state-led abuses.
De Lima, a human rights and social justice champion, lamented that more than Duterte, the country’s unilateral withdrawal from ICC would greatly benefit foreign aggressors, especially China, to the detriment of the Philippines’ interests and security.
She warned that Duterte’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute becomes nothing more than a self-serving act that also favored his Chinese patron, with the Philippines as the major loser,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 494.
“Because as sure as anything, Duterte will continue to commit crimes against humanity on his countrymen, and China will continue to commit acts of aggression against Filipino fisherfolks beyond March 17, 2019. The Philippines has just been stripped naked of ICC protection from both,” she added.
The Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute took effect last March 17, which means that any future act of aggression by foreign countries and crimes against humanity committed by Duterte after March 17, 2019 can no longer be raised by the Philippines to the ICC.
Additionally, the ICC can only investigate summary executions carried out by policemen and vigilantes, upon Duterte’s directive, from June 30, 2016 to March 16, 2019 due to the said withdrawal.
Before March 17, Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales, along with a group of local fishermen, were able to file a communication before the ICC against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials for crimes committed in the disputed South China Sea.
While she lauded the move, De Lima was concerned that “China’s acts of aggression complained of in Del Rosario’s and Morales’s ICC communication definitely will not be the last to be committed by a foreign country or leader against the Philippines and Filipino citizens.”
De Lima said she was also alarmed that Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal from the country’s membership to the Rome Statute without the Senate’s concurrence might also prompt him to eventually withdraw from other significant treaties should issue affecting him arise.
“Another point. With the now emboldened President Duterte, whose unilateral act of withdrawing sans Senate concurrence was left unchecked by the Supreme Court, what would prevent him now from likewise withdrawing, whimsically and capriciously as he did as to the Rome Statute, from other major treaties like the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty?” she asked.
“In short, the grievously ill-advised and arbitrary unilateral withdrawal from the Rome Statute was a colossal blunder,” she added.
In 2018, De Lima sought the Supreme Court’s approval to allow her to personally appear and argue on the petition that she and her colleagues filed challenging the Philippines’ unilateral decision to withdraw from the ICC.
However, the SC junked the minority senators’ motion to allow De Lima to argue for the position of non-withdrawal from the Rome Statute, maintaining that the case will not be prejudiced if a lawyer other than De Lima argued their petition before the Court.
In other developments, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Saturday said he would file a resolution to investigate the sand extraction attempt of a Chinese-manned dredging ship off the coast of Lobo, Batangas, and know if the incident was happening in other areas.
He said the Senate probe into the “poaching or export of sand and other landfill materials” should cover not only the reported sand dredging in Batangas “but similar cases in other parts of the country.”
“Have we become a land reclamation material supplier? Are we exporting our sand?” Recto asked.
“If our mountains have been flattened and transported ship by ship to reclaim islands, some of which are within our territory, then that is land transfer of the worst kind,” he said.
Recto said if reports are true that the Chinese ship was dredging sand for use in the building of Hong Kong airport’s third runway, “then it is our second contribution to the project—the first being the P700 million that Filipino travellers pay a year for the expansion of the Hong Kong airport.”
“It is in the fine print of a round-trip plane ticket to Hong Kong. Nasa ticket ‘yan. You pay 90 Hong Kong dollars as Hong Kong airport construction fee,” Recto said.
Given the global shortage of sand and rising local demand for the construction material, Recto said it is time for the government to review existing policies on sand and gravel quarrying, transport and sale.
“There are many provinces in the country that are sand and gravel poor. Kaya tumataas ang home construction cost kasi minsan binabarko pa ang mga ito from one province to another. Many government road projects have been delayed by the lack of gravel and aggregates,” Recto said.
“Sand is in high demand worldwide. According to the United Nations, sand and gravel account for 85 percent of everything mined worldwide annually. And China, which accounts for half of the global demand, is like a huge sand-and-gravel suction machine,” he said.
Recto said the high demand for sand has given birth to “sand mafia” in many parts of the world, “and possibly, there are local groups here which are trafficking that sellable commodity.”
Vietnam’s domestic demand for sand exceeds the country’s total reserves. Many beaches in other countries have been stripped bare of sand. Strip mining also happens in coastal areas.
“This should not happen in our place,” said Recto, citing the need for an inventory and a good policy on these resources.