Senate likely to pass West PH Sea resolution with amendments

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 3) — A Senate resolution filed last week denouncing Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea has a good chance of being passed, but with some amendments, some senators said on Monday.

Only 11 senators – or less than half of the upper chamber – signed Proposed Senate Resolution No. 708 which calls the legislative body to “condemn in the strongest possible terms" China's illegal activities in parts of the West Philippine Sea.

Asked if he would support the measure once taken up in the plenary, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III in a text message told CNN Philippines, "Yes, with a few amendments.” He refused to disclose the changes he would propose.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who also did not sign the resolution, said it should have a more appropriate language.

“As for me, I would propose the inclusion of a ‘review of our diplomatic relations with China’ in order to send a strong message short of condemnation which I believe is too harsh if not inappropriate,” Lacson told CNN Philippines.

“Once calendared for plenary deliberations and amendments are introduced and accepted by the sponsor of the measure, there is no reason why the resolution will not be adopted,” he added.

Lacson said what is important is to send a clear message that the Philippines rejects China’s bullying.

He also took note of China’s disregard of the string of diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

On Monday, the DFA fired off two diplomatic protests – one for the continued presence of Chinese militia and fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea, and one for radio challenges sent by the China Coast Guard on Philippines vessels conducting maritime patrols and training exercises on Bajo de Masinloc, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal.

Chinese vessels, in varying numbers, have been in the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone since March despite repeated demands for them to leave the area.

High hopes

This prompted lawmakers to file the resolution on April 26. Authors include Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., and Joel Villanueva.

Hontiveros said she expects other senators to cross party lines and support the measure in the name of patriotism.

“I have a wellspring of hope for the Senate to rise above our individual selves," Hontiveros said in a statement. "In due time, I believe all of us will join forces to indisputably denounce how China has continuously assaulted our country’s dignity.”

Recto said the resolution should be prioritized once Congress resumes session on May 17. He said he is confident majority of the Senate will vote in favor of the measure once textual amendments, like the ones pushed by Lacson, are incorporated.

Lacking response

In an online media briefing, Senator Manny Pacquiao said he just did not have the chance to sign the resolution before it was filed.

Pacquiao, president of the ruling PDP-Laban Party, admitted he was not satisfied with partymate President Rodrigo Duterte’s soft response to the dispute with China.

READ: Duterte: No way we can get back West PH Sea without any bloodshed

He recalled Duterte's remarks during the 2016 presidential elections campaign that he would ride a jetski and plant the country's flag in the West Philippine Sea to assert the country's sovereign rights. He said these are the kinds of statements Duterte should be giving now.

"Ang gusto ko lang na ipakita na manindigan tayo, wag tayong ba-buckle buckle para lumakas rin ang loob ng ating mga kababayan," said Pacquiao, who refused to confirm plans to run for President in 2022. "Katulad nung pinakita niyang tapang noong panahon ng pangangampanya."

[Translation: What I want is to show our strong stance without buckling so our fellow Filipinos would also have the same courage. Just like what he showed during the campaign season.]

Pacquiao earlier wrote to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian reiterating the government’s demand that China withdraw its vessels from the West Philippine Sea.

He said Huang has sent an informal response acknowledging the receipt of his letter and emphasizing that "any differences" should not affect the cooperation between the two countries.

Duterte has been criticized for nurturing friendly ties with China even as the East Asian giant continues to reject the Philippines' 2016 arbitration win in the Hague. The arbitral ruling recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to areas within its EEZ which Beijing considers part of its sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea.