By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) criticized both China and US for their activities in the West Philippine Sea, which, it said, violate the country’s sovereignty as well as threaten the marine ecosystem.
Other groups, including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also lambasted the Chinese reclamation and the upcoming Ph-US Balikatan war games in the West Philippine Sea.
“China’s reclamation is the latest episode in its drive to violate our sovereignty in the disputed seas. Meanwhile, this year’s annual US war games will be held in the country’s last frontier, Palawan, clearly to counter China,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
The Ph-US bilateral military exercises 2015 will be held from April 20 to 30, involving some 5,000 US troops and 6,000 Filipino soldiers, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Among the areas identified for joint civil-military operations is Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where US engineering battalions have already started constructing a high school building.
Since last year, progressive groups have condemned the repairs at an old Philippine Navy station in Ulugan Bay, Palawan, which was reportedly eyed as one of the temporary basing or “agreed locations” under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Meanwhile, China has been doing dredging and land reclamation for the construction of suspected military bases in reef and shoal areas inside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
Bautista suspected that China’s reclamation and construction activities are also meant “to establish their EEZ and air defense identification zone” the West Philippine Sea.
“On the other hand, the increasing military activities of the United States in Philippine territories, is widely acknowledged as part of the US’ strategic military pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region alongside its efforts to establish a free-trade agreement across the region in resource and biodiversity-rich areas adjacent to the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Bautista said that China’s land reclamation and the increased activity of various foreign vessels have resulted to “ever-worsening marine degradation.”
“The US-Aquino response of intensifying US militarization in the country, far from defusing the situation, is actually intensifying the tensions and has even caused major environmental disasters themselves, as in the grounding of a US warship in Tubbataha Reef and their dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes in Subic Bay,” said Bautista.
Meanwhile, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) slammed the Aquino administration as a “shameless puppet” for refusing to take a stronger stand on China’s reclamation.
“It refuses to assert economic sovereignty, which will allow us to develop the capacity to defend our territorial waters,” Bayan said in its April 7 statement.
Bayan also hit the upcoming Balikatan exercises as “a continuing reminder of the subservience of the Aquino regime to foreign dictates.”
“Why is the Philippine government welcoming these interventionist troops after all the damage they have done to our country?” Bayan said.
At the House investigation on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano fiasco, Makabayan bloc lawmakers said more proof are being uncovered showing that the US had a lead role in the planning, funding and execution of Oplan Exodus, which targeted suspected international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
“The refusal of the US to reveal its true role in Mamasapano along with their earlier refusal to surrender custody of Pemberton should already be grounds for terminating US military activities in the country. These should be enough basis to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Edca,” Bayan said.
China robs Ph
The CPP also lambasted China for its reclamation activities and encroachment in Philippine territories.
“China claims 90% of the South China Sea and in effect robs the Philippines 100% of its extended continental shelf (ECS) and 80% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the CPP said in its statement on the 46th anniversary of the New People’s Army on March 29.
The CPP warned that the bases could be “operational in less than a year,” and decried that the US and Aquino governments “have not shown any effective opposition.”
“In fact, the US has declared in self-contradiction that it is neutral in disputes over the South China Sea,” it said.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to promulgate its ruling on the suit that the Philippines has filed before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the CPP said.
At the most, US President Barack Obama expressed “concern” with China on the West Philippine Sea “maritime disputes” on April 9, in a forum at the University of West Indies during his visit to Jamaica.
“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said.
“We think this can be solved diplomatically, just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside. And by the way, we don’t have a particular view on the territorial disputes, the maritime disputes. Our attitude is simply, Let’s use the mechanisms we have in place internationally to resolve them,” Obama said.
“We Filipinos are the losers in this shadow war currently being waged in the West Philippine Sea,” Bautista said. “It is resulting in the degradation of coral reefs and its consequent disruption of entire marine ecosystems, and the displacement of our fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds.”
Kalikasan called on China and the Aquino government to “find a diplomatic solution.”
“Beyond economic gains, both parties should see the inter-generational importance of preserving the marine ecosystems of the West Philippine Sea. This can be an alternative track in resolving the disputes without needing to compromise the sovereignty of our respective countries to imperialist interests,” Bautista said.