By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
THE country must assert its claim to ownership of the contested territory in the West Philippine Sea but it has to seek the help of other nations in Southeast Asia so it could have a bigger voice against the aggressive actions of China, a lawmaker said here on Tuesday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said it would be the best choice of action to rally the members of the Association Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), especially those who are involved in the territorial dispute, to pressure the superpower into cooperating and resolving the multinational issue since the Philippines cannot afford to go to war with China despite the blatant aggression it has displayed when it occupied and built structures on some parts of the disputed territory.
Among the Asean member-nations who, like the Philippines, are claiming some portions of the disputed maritime area as their own, are Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
“We can rally our neighbors who also have the same claims there, and engage China in a multilateral manner so that the proposed code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea could be realized,” Zarate said.
He said the diplomatic approach is more effective because the Philippine lacks the capability and capacity to wage war with China.
The congressman has also slammed the administration of President Duterte for what he called as having a “chopsuey foreign policy” for the government’s dealings with the US, China, and even Russia.
Zarate said Duterte should push for an independent foreign policy, a promise he made during the campaign in 2016, rather than serve “at the pleasure of the powerful nations.”
“We can deal with other countries on equal footing and we must see to it that our rights are not trampled on,” he added.
He said Bayan Muna and other militant groups threw their support behind Duterte when he ran in 2016 because of that campaign promise.
Meanwhile, the progressive group Makabayan Northern Mindanao Coalition has criticized the Duterte government for acting as China’s “lap dog” as it “agreed blindly to loan agreements with China that aim to entrap us to debt” despite the exorbitant loan rates.
“The government arrogance and boastfulness that it will be able to pay the outstanding loan and interest will bring our country towards debt enslavement; this, despite the funding options available with no or less interest rates and the more sustainable and favorable option of putting up national industries that the government should already be implementing,” Makabayan said.
Among the loan packages China has provided to the country include the P4.372-billion Chico River Irrigation Project, the P10.9 billion New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project, and the P151.3 billion Philippine National Railway South Commuter Line.
“We reiterate our stand to junk the one-sided China loan agreement. We resound our call against the incursion of China on Philippine waters and lands and the harassment of our fishermen by Chinese armed personnel. We assert that the Philippines is not for sale,” Makabayan said.