“We must assert our territorial integrity through stronger diplomatic relations with a vast array of countries, and not solely the US.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Youth and women groups appealed to President Duterte to push for an independent foreign policy and not to be “sweet talked” by Washington, in light of the visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry on July 27.
The top US official’s visit was seen by critics as Washington’s effort to affect Duterte’s decisions about the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) and the West Philippine Sea dispute.
“President Duterte, you know exactly why Secretary Kerry is visiting you today – to try and coax you into submission to Washington’s orders and demands,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago in a statement. Elago said Duterte can show that he is different from past presidents, by asserting Philippine sovereignty and veering away from US dictates.
Kerry arrived in the country in the evening of July 26, coming from a series of meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Laos.
Hundreds of protesters led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Gabriela, Kabataan Party-list and Manilakbayan ng Mindanao staged a picket at the US embassy in Manila July 27, condemning the top US diplomat’s visit, and the Supreme Court’s July 26 final ruling affirming the constitutionality of Edca.
Elago said Duterte may order the review and eventual abrogation of Edca, given the Supreme Court ruling that it is not a treaty, but an executive agreement.
“While we do not subscribe to that view, having Edca as an executive agreement empowers the president to immediately scrap the deal,” Elago said. She added that the President can also order a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Lumád and youth groups from Mindanao raised particular opposition to putting up a US military base in Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, one of the agreed locations under Edca.
“President Duterte knows first-hand the impact of US intervention in Mindanao. He has seen the persecution of the Bangsamoro and the destruction of our lands brought about by US military intervention. Women plead with President Duterte to heed the call of the indigenous and Moro peoples of Mindanao and defend sovereignty from imperialist aggression,” said Bai Ali Indayla, Manilakbayan spokesperson and third nominee of the Gabriela Women’s Party-list.
’US trying to block Ph-China talks on West Ph Sea dispute’
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said Kerry’s visit was meant to block possible diplomatic talks between the Philippines and China on the West Philippine Sea dispute. The CPP said the US is trying “to press on the Philippine government in order to prevent it from dealing with China on its own terms.”
Kerry, in his speech after meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., insisted that although the US is not a claimant in the disputed waters, it takes “a strong position on protecting the rights, the freedoms, and the lawful uses of air and sea space as defined by international law.”
He said the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in favor of the Philippines is “legally binding,” and must be complied with by all parties. Kerry also urged all claimants “to exercise restraint and to work to reduce tensions.” The PCA dismissed China’s nine-dash line basis for territorial claims on 90 percent of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
“In typical imperialist high-handedness, Sec. Kerry insists on inserting itself and imposing its position to prevent the involved countries from settling the matter independently,” said the CPP in a statement. It noted that ironically, the US has refused to sign the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The CPP said bilateral talks with China need not proceed from the PCA ruling, rather on “mutually beneficial concerns, such as sharing of the Panatag shoal.”
Elago, meanwhile, said the West Philippine Sea dispute has seen both the US and China competing to get a stronger foothold in the Asia-Pacific region, and the Philippines.
“We must assert our territorial integrity through stronger diplomatic relations with a vast array of countries, and not solely the US. Doing so will also make China realize that we are asserting our sovereignty not because Washington asks us to do so, but because we believe that we should fight for and assert our territorial integrity,” she said.