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Sa West PH Sea na lang! Opposition solons chide Duterte for vowing to sail to PH Rise

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By Xave Gregorio

At least four opposition lawmakers from the House of Representatives chided President Rodrigo Duterte for saying he would set sail next week to Benham Rise and told him to head to the West Philippine Sea instead.

Reps. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis), Edgar Erice (Caloocan City), Tom Villarin (Akbayan) and Gary Alejano (Magdalo) questioned why Duterte said he would sail to Benham Rise, locally known as Philippine Rise, when there is no conflict in the area, unlike in the West Philippine Sea, where China is ramping up its militarization of the region.

“It’s more proper for the President to make his presence felt and assert our sovereign right in our territories that further threatened by the land grabbing spree of the Chinese government,” Casilao said Saturday (April 28) in a statement.

Casilao said Duterte should make the government’s presence felt in the West Philippine Sea “in front of the Chinese that have been illegally constructing military facilities.”

“He should also put premium on the maritime security of our islands in the West Philippine Sea instead of guarding Boracay. The island’s residents are not engaged on land grabbing, the Chinese are”, he added, referring to intensified military and police presence on the popular island destination following its six-month closure beginning April 26.

Erice called Duterte’s promise to sail to the Philippine Rise a “cheap publicity stunt,” when “the Chinese are actively invading our islands in the West Philippine Sea.”

Villarin shared the same sentiments, saying that the President’s vow is “illogical and indefensible.”

“Exercising our sovereignty goes beyond such acts like sailing to disputed waters but having the support of the international community over our claims like our victory in [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] Arbitration Tribunal,” he said in a text message to reporters.

“Unfortunately we burned bridges with the UN and our traditional allies. The Philippines has thus become a laughingstock in our foreign policy engagements,” he continued.

The Akbayan representative also said Duterte’s “gimmicks” is the reason why his results in latest surveys have been slumping.

For his part, Alejano said asserting the Philippines rights over Benham Rise is more than just sailing to it, but being “consistent in calling out or protesting any intrusion to our territory, any actions violative of our rights, any harassment of our fishermen and govt vessels and aircrafts, in every forum where we can raise the [Permanent Court of Arbitration] ruling, and many more.”

However, Alejano pointed out, the Philippine government does not have a clear strategy on the West Philippine Sea.

The President said Friday (April 27) in a speech that he would sail to Benham Rise, where five undersea features in Philippine territory have been given Chinese names by Chinese scientists, which raised a howl among netizens.

This sounded like a harkening back to his promise on the campaign trail: That he would ride a jetski to Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag there.

But in a speech last month, Duterte confirmed that this statement was just a joke.