Senators to discuss raising sea row to UN

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri makes a press statement after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) Act of 2023 into law a week before he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, 2023. Mong Pintolo / The Philippine STAR


Manila, Philippines — The Senate will discuss behind closed doors a proposed resolution urging the Marcos administration to seek support from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in protecting Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri agreed to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s proposal for a caucus on July 31. Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and presidential adviser on West Philippine Sea Andres Centino will be invited.

Cayetano earlier blocked the Senate’s adoption of a resolution authored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to call out China’s aggressions in the WPS before the UNGA.

Cayetano was foreign affairs secretary to former president Rodrigo Duterte, who downplayed The Hague’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines.

Duterte visited Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 17, an unannounced trip that some believe is a message to President Marcos, who has reinvigorated the Philippines’ alliance with the United States.

“Is the UNGA the right forum for us to get the right justice? I’m not saying it’s the wrong strategy. I’m saying the Senate should tread carefully and get the right information,” Cayetano said.

Aside from China, Vietnam and Malaysia have militarized the features that they claim in the Spratlys, Cayetano said in opposition to the resolution.

“If we simply pass this resolution, we might end up disappointed. The UNGA is for consensus, not for highly contentious issues like this. If we don’t get all the information, study it well and help the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) craft the resolution itself, it might be negative for us later on,” he explained.

Hontiveros and Zubiri agreed that the Senate, as an independent body, can express its sentiment through the adoption of resolutions without conferring with the executive branch.

“The Senate has stood ground many times and it is not always in sync with the executive. We can have an early caucus Monday to discuss this and take it up to the plenary,” Zubiri said.

“But one thing is for sure: we must condemn China’s creeping invasion and its blatant and bullying tactics,” he added.

“My resolution is a simple call for the (DFA) to file a resolution before the UNGA. It will be up to the Philippine government if it will follow our call, but at least we were able to convey the sense of the Senate,” Hontiveros said.

“Although not legally binding, the UNGA resolutions carry significant political weight and serve as expressions of the will and consensus of the international community, with the potential to shape international norms, influence national policies and provide guidance for the work of other UN organs, specialized agencies and regional organizations,” her resolution filed on June 19 read.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro earlier warned that a possible Philippine resolution is at risk of being turned down due to China’s veto power as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Marcos failed WPS

Marcos failed to mention in his second State of the Nation Address on July 24 the country’s claim to the West Philippine Sea, according to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

“The Philippines has not recovered an inch of territory in the WPS illegally amassed and arrogantly occupied by China,” Lagman said.

“Victory is not in the arbitral decision. It is in the full enforcement of the award,” he added.

The Hague’s 2016 arbitral ruling invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the entirety of the South China Sea. China remains an aggressor in numerous incidents that occurred in the South China Sea.

Lagman cited a June 19-23 Pulse Asia survey, in which 80 percent of Filipinos agree that the Philippines needs alliances with other countries to defend the West Philippine Sea and to protect the “international order.” – Sheila Crisostomo