Civil society groups in Palawan have raised their voices, calling for the government to take more concrete actions regarding the West Philippine Sea amidst new issues involving recent harassments by the Chinese Coast Guard and its militia towards Philippine vessels and Filipino fishermen in the area.

The groups—Kapatiran ng Dating Rebelde (Kadre), Mata ng Bayan, and Batang Atleta—have joined forces to collectively raise the “West Philippine Sea Atin Ito” campaign, aimed at expressing their sentiments on the recent incidents in the WPS.

On Tuesday, September 5, the group appeared before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan with the support of the 6th Civil Relations Group of the Philippine Armed Forces to voice their concerns and make their call.

Jerwin Castigador, founding president of Kadre, stated that one problem they see is the lack of sustained actions or plans by the government to assert the country’s claims in the WPS. He mentioned that the fight will be a lengthy one, given that in China, the belief that the WPS belongs to them has been ingrained in their hearts and minds for a long time, while in the Philippines, the country’s ownership and rights over the area are only now being taught to the youth.

“So sa nangyayaring ito, yun ang unang problemang dapat nating ayusin. Kaya kami sa WPS Atin Ito, bilang ambag sa awareness program ay yung information campaign para maipaliwanag yung ating karapatan sa WPS,” Castigador told the media in an interview.

He also called on the government to sustain economic activities in the area to counter China, lamenting what he said was a lack of support from the government for the Filipino fishermen.

“And what’s even worse is that their fishermen are also part of their militia that drives away our fishermen,” he said.

“Kaya tinitigil nila yung kanilang economic activities doon, so lalong tumitibay yung claim ng China na kanila yun,” he added, stating further that these issues need to be faced immediately.

David Dweine Dalag of Mata ng Bayan, on the other hand, called for a unified action to also counter China’s moves, which he described as psychological warfare.

“Kung tayo ay magpapadala, ang iisipin ng ating opponent na magkakaroon tayo ng hopelessness, ng takot ay talagan madadaig tayo,Dalag explained

“Pero kung igigiit natin na meron tayong paninindigan na ang WPS ay atin, walang imposible kahit gaano pa kalaki ang ating kalaban,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan adopted a resolution supporting the statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs rejecting the latest map released by the Chinese government creating the 10-dash line in the South China Sea and continuously contesting the several instances of encroachment by China.

Board Member Ryan Maminta agreed with the DFA’s criticism of the most recent China standard map in a privilege speech he delivered during their session.

“Our government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement to the effect of calling out the Chinese government on the said issuances, saying that the said 2023 China version of the standard map is “a latest attempt to legitimize China’s purported sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Philippines’ maritime features and shoals, which has no basis under international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS,” he said.

He said the 2016 ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration has in fact invalidated the nine-dash line, more so than the 10-dash line now being issued by the PROC.

“It categorically stated that the maritime areas of South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the nine-dash line are contrary to the convention and without lawful effect, to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the convention,” Maminta explained.