ASEAN unity, key to resolve Spratlys issue

This is a press statement from Akbayan.

Political party says GMA weakened Filipino sovereignty with JMSU, brands her “unpatriotic”

July 8- Coinciding with the series of protest actions by Filipino-Americans in the United States against Chinese military incursions, Akbayan Party today called on the Aquino government to remain steadfast in its stance to protect Philippine sovereignty over the Spratlys through diplomatic and peaceful means.

The group, which is the only left political party that persistently stood up to defend Philippine sovereignty against Chinese military’s incursions  also called Ms. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “unpatriotic” for “severely weakening Philippine sovereignty” in the West Philippine Sea due to the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) crafted during her term as president.

In a forum in University of the Philippines-Diliman, Akbayan Representative Walden Bello argued that regional solidarity through the ASEAN would prove to be the most powerful deterrent to Chinese aggression.

“We have to consider that the best way for the issue to be peacefully resolved is through the ASEAN and not through American intervention. The problem began exactly because one powerful nation tried to use its military might to bully around smaller countries. We will only worsen the problem if America enters the picture. This is an ASEAN and a regional issue, it should stay as such,” according to Bello.

GMA weakened Filipino sovereignty

Bello also shared his view that the previous administration has weakened Filipino sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea by signing the JMSU in 2004. The agreement allowed for the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), and the Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation to conduct joint seismic activities in the West Philippine Sea.

“GMA’s support for the JMSU actually weakened our sovereignty over the area considering that the area is ours, yet, we are basically saying the parties to the agreement can explore the area for oil and gas reserves. It is like saying you’re allowing your neighbors to parcel out and use your own house,” Bello said.

“That arrangement is preposterous on its face on top of being blatantly unconstitutional considering we’re practically allowing other countries to stake a claim and profit from our own resources. I think this bad move might have stemmed from cozy relations between the Chinese and GMA, one fruit of which was the NBN ZTE scandal. We will call for an investigation of the circumstances of the joint exploration deal.  So many contracts were signed with China under GMA that our national security could have been gravely compromised,” Bello added.

Banning of Chinese diplomatic officer right move

The Akbayan lawmaker also weighed in on the reported move by the DFA to ban Chinese Embassy First Secretary and Director of Political Affairs Li Yonsheng from meetings with the DFA for lashing out at a Filipino diplomatic officer during a meeting to discuss alleged Chinese military incursion in the West Philippine Sea.

Bello supported the move saying such behavior coming from a high-ranking officer of the Chinese government is unbecoming of an official of his stature.

“We should definitely ban diplomatic agents who are belligerent and disrespectful. It’s within our government’s right to do that. I also favor a ban if a US official showed the same disrespect to our diplomatic officers,” Bello said.

“Buzzing” incident puts Filipino fisher folk at risk

Meanwhile, former Akbayan partylist lawmaker Risa Hontiveros also expressed her concern over recent “buzzing” incidents in the West Philippine Sea by unidentified fighter jets. The incident involved a fishing vessel carrying Filipino fishermen at Dalagang Bukid Shoal, about 130 miles of Balabac Island in Palawan, and an unidentified fighter jet that allegedly buzzed just 20 feet above the vessel.

“We have to realize the gravity of the situation. The Spratlys issue is not a minor issue but a very important one, especially for Filipino fisherfolk living near the West Philippine Sea. If we cannot resolve the brewing conflict in the region, then we risk the safety and livelihood of our own countrymen in the area,” according to Hontiveros.

Diplomacy not machismo

Hontiveros also insisted that the current conflict in the region highlights the need for demilitarization of the area. She also called on the Chinese government to lead in such a demilitarization arguing that diplomacy not brazen machismo is needed to resolve the conflict

“Diplomacy is always best when the parties don’t have guns pointed at each other. Thus, demilitarization of the area is urgently needed in order to allow the parties involved to return to the negotiating table and resolve the issue peacefully. And since China is the leading military power in the area, it would be best if they initiate the move to demilitarize the area,” according to Hontiveros.

The forum also featured Prof. Clarita Carlos of the UP Political Science Department and Prof. Aileen Baviera of the UP Asian Center as speakers. The event was co-organized by Active Citizenship Foundation (ACF), an institute dedicated to political reform and social transformation.