Asserting Philippine sovereignty over Pag-asa Island as part of the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Senator Panfilo Lacson affirmed “it is ours,” and reminded the Duterte administration “must consistently act to thwart the bullying in the area by China.”

Lacson conveyed the message in filing Senate Resolution 954 after visiting the Pag-asa Island group last week, as chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense.

Senate Resolution 954 states “it is hereby resolved by the Senate to condemn the continued presence and hostile acts of Chinese Maritime Vessels within our EEZ and urge the government to fortify, amplify and enhance our positions in the West Philippine Sea through defense and security agreements with other nations, and by consistently invoking and protecting our internationally recognized rights through continuing diplomatic dialogue with nations of mutual/common interests in the West Philippine Sea.”

The Lacson resolution likewise called for “a comprehensive development plan that includes concrete projects to improve the quality of life and to ensure the efficient delivery of public services.”

“In pursuit of sending a stronger message of assertion that Pag-Asa Island is ours, a comprehensive Development Plan must be crafted laying-out concrete projects, programs and activities aimed at improving the quality of life and efficient delivery of public services therein,” the resolution read.

 At the same time, the resolution reaffirmed that Pag-asa Island is considered a municipality in Palawan by virtue of Presidential Decree 1596 dated June 11, 1978. “Yet, it is surrounded by Chinese maritime vessels despite our repeated diplomatic protests,” the resolution said.

The senator warned that if these continuing acts of the Chinese maritime vessels in the WPS remain unchecked and unchallenged, they may “constitute clear and present danger not only to our national interest and territorial integrity, but also to the peace and stability of the entire Asia Pacific Region.”

Lacson recalled that in 1995, China seized Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and turned it into a 550-hectare air and naval outpost that can deploy military assets and conduct surveillance over the WPS.

Moreover, the senator added that in 2012, China disregarded an agreement brokered by the United States to end the standoff in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal by not withdrawing from the area, and instead constructing chain barriers to prevent access by the Philippines. The lawmaker lamented that China also refused to accept the Philippines’ arbitral victory in 2016 and continues to occupy and enjoy the marine resources.

“Worse,” Lacson deplored “at least three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water-cannoned two Philippine supply boats en route to Ayungin Shoal, which is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile EEZ, last November 16.

Concerned Philippine officials, including President Duterte issued a statement in the Asean-China Special Summit abhorring the November 16 incident and urged China to exercise utmost self-restraint in Philippine territory.

For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. condemned the incident, while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana maintained China has no right to impede, prevent or harass our Philippine ships within our EEZ.

On November 20, Lacson had a first-hand experience of Chinese bullying while en route to Pag-asa Island, as Chinese authorities issued a radio challenge to the pilots of the plane he was riding. Despite the challenge, Lacson and his party managed to visit the island—but received text messages that read “Welcome to China!”

In calling for a balance of power in the region and for development programs for Pag-asa Island, Lacson stressed the importance of the WPS in ensuring freedom of navigation and unhampered international trade.

“Considering the importance of the West Philippine Sea in ensuring freedom of navigation, unhampered international trade and commerce in the Asia Pacific Region and the vital role it plays in the security and safety of the region, there is a need to uphold a rules based maritime order in the area to maintain the balance of power and stability therein,” he said. 

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