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The Philippine Senate on Wednesday referred to the Committees on National Defense and Foreign Relations the privilege speech made by Senator Francis Tolentino regarding a recent “bullying” by a Chinese vessel to the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

After various manifestations from colleagues during the chamber’s last regular session this year, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva moved to adopt an unnumbered resolution expressing “disgust” by the incident.

“We can put to the whereas clauses the persistent violations of our sovereignty in this area but citing this particular latest incident in the West Philippine Sea. And maybe we can add there the bravery of our Naval soldiers who retrieved this debris at this particular time even without arms using a rubber boat facing such a massive force,” Zubiri said.

This, after Tolentino played in his privilege speech a video showing a Chinese vessel cutting the towing line of a Philippine Navy rubber boat that is retrieving debris from a Chinese Long March 5B rocket that fell within the Pag-asa Islands in WPS.

“This is an actual footage of that incident that happened last month. The China boat as I have said, came within 20 to 30 yards from the Philippine rubber boat and forcibly cut the towing line of the space debris. See how dangerous it was,” he said, noting that the Chinese diplomats denied that the incident occurred claiming that a friendly consultation took place.

Tolentino warned that the incident was a gross violation of Philippine Sovereignty under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award.

He urged the members of the military and diplomatic corps to continue denouncing the brazen intrusions into Philippine maritime territory and assert the country’s rights, calling as well to strengthen the Philippine strategic alliances with other Southeast Asian neighbor countries.

Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, who suggested passing a resolution expressing the Senate’s stand against China’s recurring intrusion into Philippine territories, proposed that government agencies like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to make their presence more felt in the Kalayaan Islands.

“We just passed the budget and the signing is on Friday. BFAR has its own budget. There’s no need for us to wait to amend the 2024 budget. Perhaps from their budget on fishing boats, they can allocate for Kalayaan,” Legarda said.

Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. also associated himself with the strong pronouncements of colleagues saying all Filipinos are duty bound to defend and protect the country from brazen intrusions from outside forces.

“Mga kababayan, hindi tayo papayag. Hindi dapat tayo pumayag. Taas noo at buong puso po tayong maninindigan. Atin ang Pilipinas. Dapat nating ipaglaban ito. (My fellow citizens, we will not agree, we should not agree to this. We will wholeheartedly stand firm with pride. The Philippines is ours. We should fight for it),” Revilla said.

Senator Christopher Lawrence Go cited Article XII, Section 2 of the Constitution 1987 Philippine Constitution, saying “the country’s national interest and welfare of all Filipinos should always be our paramount consideration when it comes to the WPS issue.”

The section states that : “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

“Ito po ang mandato sa atin ng Saligang Batas, ang protektahan, isulong at ipaglaban kung ano ang sa atin (This is the mandate of our Constitution, to protect, uphold, and fight for what is ours),” Go said, acknowledging that although the Philippines has less modernized military force than other WPS claimants, it should not cede even a small portion of its territory.

Go also urged restraint and expressed hope that the claimant countries will resolve the dispute through diplomatic means.

“Bilang isang mambabatas, hangad ko na sana lahat ng anumang hindi pagkakaintindihan sa West Philippine Sea ay maidadaan sa maayos at diplomatikong usapan (As a lawmaker, I hope all the misunderstandings in West Philippine Sea will go through a proper and diplomatic talks),” he said.

Appreciating the manifestation made by his colleagues, Zubiri also commended the Philippine troops who continue to defend the country against intruders.

“As mentioned by our distinguished colleagues that the need to modernize our Armed Forces is a primordial concern. As mentioned by Navy Capt. (Alfrederick) Alba who’s here with us now, he mentioned in his statement earlier (during the Commission on Appointments deliberation) that they are willing to fight to the death. But of course, our soldiers prefer that they can fight another day. So, let us give them equipment not just to fight to the death but to fight and fight, and come back and fight another day,” Zubiri said.

“We should not let our country be bullied by anyone and it is us, the 24-members of this august chamber. We have no parochial concerns here. This is 24-members of this chamber who believe in our nation, who love our country regardless of what province it may be, that we will never give up a square-inch of our nation for our future generations,” he added. (PNA)

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