Photo Courtesy of U.S. Embassy in the Philippines

Kalayaan in the West Philippine Sea regards US Vice President Kamala Harris’ statements that America is supporting the country against Chinese intimidation in the region as a positive development and that China must recognize the 2016 United Nations arbitral tribunal ruling, “which delivered an [enormous] and final decision formally rejecting China’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims.”

“The [Hague] tribunal’s decision is legally binding, and must be respected. “We will continue [to support] our allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior,” Harris said in a speech during her visit to Puerto Princesa on Tuesday.

Kalayaan acting mayor Beltzasar Alindogan said he is confident that even without the statements, the United States government is committed to the country on the issue.

“Although kahit hindi pa man nagsalita si Vice President Kamala Harris, sa pamamagitan ng ating national government through President Ferdinand Marcos, ay alam natin na yun ay isa sa pinakamahalagang ginagawa nila na ma-maintain ang magandang relasyon ng Pilipinas at China, at ng iba pang mga bansa,” Alindogan told Palawan News in a telephone interview.

“This is a welcome development at tayo ay nagpapasalamat na ganoon ang paninindigan ng US o ng iba pang bansa na magkaroon ng isang mithiin para magkaroon ng katahimikan diyan sa WPS,” he explained.

Alindogan also said that after the incident in Pag-asa Island last Sunday, “everything is now calm and back to normal.”

He, however, said China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels, such as CCGV 5203, have been regularly sighted near the island that usually drops anchor near Sandbar 1 and Sandbar 2.

“Yung presence ng Chinese Coast Guard at iba pang barko nila, hindi masyadong lumalayo sa Pag-asa Island. Nagpapalit-palitan lang sila at palipat-lipat, usually naka-angkorahe lang sila malapit sa Sandbar 1 at Sandbar 2, which is around three [nautical] miles from Pag-asa Island,” he said.

He also said that they have prepared contingency measures in any eventuality.

“Kasama yan sa mga plano at ginagawa namin sa programs and activities. In case na magkaroon (ng escalation of tension) pero siguro malayo naman mangyari, ang plano namin na kung talagang dumating ang ganoong panahon, nakadepende rin sa advice and coordination ng aming partner agencies katulad ng Western Command,” he said.

“Isa sa plano kung sakali man, mayroon naman kaming mga sasakyang pandagat na magagamit para yung ating mamamayan doon ay madala sa mainland Palawan, he added.

Palawan Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates said Harri’s visit is significant considering that she is the highest standing US official to visit the province so far.

He said the province is grateful that the USAID has been investing here ever since, and that the Harris visited Palawan to look at the USAID projects, one of which is the sustainable interventions in biodiversity landscape through SIBOL and the assistance to fisherfolk.

“Directly sa provincial government, walang direct effect but ever since, ang USAID masipag magbigay ng tulong even during the pandemic and after typhoon Odette. So, masaya na dinalaw tayo ng vice president ng US.

“Maraming nagbi-bait sa akin to connect with the WPS but sinasabi ko, it’s above my salary grade. I wouldn’t want to comment on any connection with the WPS kasi that already involves national security and international relations. I will leave that to the national government dahil baka makagulo lang tayo,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think Harris’ visit will create tensions because America has been an ally of the Philippines “since time immemorial and it’s normal among friendly nations to exchange visits among its officials.”

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