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West Philippine Sea: Defending Human Rightsof the Filipino People



China Coast Guard's (CCG's) dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons against the PCG vessels escorting boats delivering food, water, fuel and other supplies to Philippine military troops stationed on BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, August 5, 2023   Commodore Jay Tarriela @jaytaryela, Spokesperson, Philippine Coast Guard


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was drafted by representatives from diverse cultural and national backgrounds to be the foundational document recognizing that all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have inherent rights which should be protected by the state. These human rights  include  civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights such as  life, liberty and security of person, food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare, education, work with fair wages and safe conditions, gender equality; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; non-discrimination; freedom of  movement within each  state; not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, torture or cruel and inhuman punishment; and right to participate in the governance of a person’s country. Every human being needs to understand his/her rights and be active in protecting and defending those rights, not just for themselves but for all other peoples and nations in the world. All peoples should call on their Governments to fulfill their responsibility to promote human rights. The theme selected by the UN for 2023 Human Rights Day, which is the 75th Anniversary of its declaration in 1948, is Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.


Over the last 75 years, the UDHR has been elaborated in multiple covenants, conventions, declarations, and treaties which majority of countries have ratified and hence are obliged to implement in their national and domestic laws, regulations, policies, and practices.  Examples of these International Human Rights instruments are those focusing on the rights of the child, migrants and migrant workers, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and refugees; elimination of racial discrimination; and the Geneva Conventions protecting civilians and prisoners in wars and armed conflicts and no genocide. While there has been progress in the protection of human rights globally since 1948, violations of human rights still persist whether through wars as tragically witnessed in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, hunger, social injustices, racism, gender-based inequalities and violence,  political repression and the outcomes of environmental destruction. Many countries, including the Philippines and Canada, have adopted human rights principles in their Constitutions, but challenges remain in promoting human rights in diverse dimensions of life.


LINGAP-Canada has been celebrating annually this International Day since our revival in 2020 with three virtual forums. In 2020, 35 speakers shared their reflection on the meaning and implications of human rights from their perspectives, contexts, and roles in their community. In 2021, a Human Rights Monologues featured individuals or groups sharing stories of human rights violations experienced by various peoples as well as the appeals or statements of people acting in solidarity to defend and protect those human rights. In 2022, LINGAP provided a compilation of the inspirational vision/work of several Human Rights Defenders in Canada and the Philippines.


LINGAP-Canada's 2023 celebration is focused specifically on the serious and escalating issue and tensions between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea.  While the tensions are not new, they have increased in part due to the shift in Philippine foreign policy away from China to the US and now the Philippine Government's more assertive defense of Philippine sovereignty rights based on the 2016 International Arbitral ruling in favour of the Philippines against China's claim that it controls all the South China Sea within its  so-called "9 (now 10) -dash line."


In response, China has engaged in bullying and hostile actions especially in harassing (e.g., use of water cannons; ship blocking and ramming; laser pointing) Philippines resupply missions to the soldiers on board the BRP Sierra Madre ship that the Philippines grounded on the Ayungin Shoal in 1997 to signal its sovereignty over the shoal which lies within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.  Most recently, on December 9, similar attacks were conducted by the Chinese Coast Guard and accompanying vessels on Philippine fisheries vessels to distribute fuel and food packs to fishermen. 


On Dec 9, Atin Ito, a civilian mission aimed to bring supplies and Christmas cheer to the fishermen and frontliners in Philippine-occupied features in the West PH Sea. It is the first civilian-led mission of youth leaders, fisherfolk, and other volunteers “bringing supplies such as food, medicines, navigation tools, and other Christmas gifts to fishermen and frontliners, while asserting the nation's sovereignty against foreign intrusion and aggression”. Regrettably, the mother ship had to abort its mission due to the shadowing by Chinese vessels, but a smaller Philippine ship managed to reach one island to deliver the donations. 

After two decades of negotiating between ASEAN nations and China, little progress has been made in formulating a Code of Conduct to promote peace, stability, and cooperation in the South China Sea region by providing a framework for managing disputes. As one analyst noted, “China has used the Code of Conduct process to buy time while asserting operational control over additional disputed territories and waters (and militarising some occupied features) at the expense of nearly all Southeast Asian claimants and littoral states.”

The West Philippine Sea conflict impacts on the human rights of the Filipino people - their rights to self-determination and sovereignty over their territory as recognized under international law;  the right to food and livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk who have been prevented by  Chinese Coast Guard  and other militia ships from fishing in the Philippines EEZ; the right of the Philippine Government to conduct resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre and patrols of its Coast Guard vessels and other Government vessels safely without dangerous obstructions and other actions by official Chinese ships. In addition, the building by China of artificial militarized islands in the region has caused environmental destruction with negative impact on the rights of Filipinos to the sustainability of regional fisheries and other marine resources and biodiversity. Marine scientists meanwhile have expressed alarm over the destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea that are critical for the health of the environment and in preventing a collapse in fish stocks, which sustain the livelihoods of tens of millions of Filipinos.


Below is a compilation of quotations or short statements on the West Philippine conflict from various Philippine Government officials, political representatives, academics, and community NGOs:


Bongbong Marcos Jr.

President of the Republic of the Philippines 

Post on X , Dec 10, 2023


“The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese Maritime Militia against our vessels and personnel over the weekend have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation's sovereignty … Ayungin Shoal is within our Exclusive Economic Zone, any foreign claim of sovereignty over it is baseless and absolutely contrary to international law. Bajo de Masinloc is sovereign Philippine territory and an integral part of our archipelago. No one but the Philippines has a legitimate right or legal basis to operate anywhere in the West Philippine Sea. The illegal presence in our waters and dangerous actions against our citizens is an outright and blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order.”


Philippine Senate Resolution No. 79, Aug 1, 2023


“whereas, the Department of Foreign Affairs is expected to continue holding dialogues with the Chinese government to push for recognition and respect of the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its EEZ …. the Department … is further urged to pursue the following courses of action:

1.     Bringing international attention to China’s harassment of Filipino fishermen in the Philippine EEZ…;

2.     Utilizing international fora to rally multilateral support for the enforcement of the Hague Ruling…;

3.     Engaging like-minded countries in various international organizations, meetings, and other fora to call on China to respect the Hague Ruling and the UNCLOS; and…;

4.     Filing a Resolution before the United Nations General Assembly, to call for the cessation of all activities that harass Philippine vessels and violate the Philippines’ established rights in the West Philippine Sea….

To strongly condemn the continued harassment of Filipino fisherfolk and the incursions in the West Philippine Sea by the Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels, and to urge the Philippine Government to take appropriate action in asserting and securing the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its  exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and to call on  China to stop its illegal activities in- accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration”


HR 1494, adopted by the House of Representatives, 19th Congress

Republic of the Philippines.  07 December 2023


“…there is no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line… In clear violation of the Arbitral Award, China has built artificial islands in various parts of the West Philippine Sea fortified with airstrips, military installations, hardware, and equipment and has militarized at least three of those artificial islands… The Philippines …has resorted to diplomatic tools to address Chinese aggression, including the filing of over 400 diplomatic protests… Such illegal activities include (a) harassment, shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges; (b) unilateral imposition of a fishing moratorium; (c) unauthorized conduct of Marine Scientific Research activities; (d) incessant and unlawful restriction of Filipino fishermen from conducting legitimate fishing activities in Bajo de Masinloc; and (e) harassment of Philippine boats in Ayungin Shoal… China's actions against the Philippines' routine and regular rotation and resupply (RORE) missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal has become more dangerous… The Philippine government must strengthen its ability to patrol and protect the country's maritime zones by building a self-reliant defense posture program and upgrading the capabilities of the PCG."


Commodore Jay Tarriela

Spokesperson, National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS)


STATEMENT OF THE NATIONAL TASK FORCE FOR THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA 9 December 2023 https://twitter.com/jaytaryela/status/1733399217136427048 

“The National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) vehemently condemns the illegal and aggressive actions carried out by the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia against the civilian Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels …during a regular BFAR humanitarian and support mission of providing oil subsidy and grocery packs to over 30 Filipino fishing vessels near Bajo De Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea. …To prevent the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane…China's illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines' sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the Arbitral Award…We demand that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities and uphold the principles of international law …”


Antonio Carpio

Former Supreme Court

Senior Associate Justice


Interview with Manila Times, Nov 15, 2013  

“Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippine’s EEZ…Under UNCLOS, only the Philippines has the exclusive right to put up a permanent structure in the EEZ for the purpose of conserving and managing the natural resources and protecting and preserving the natural environment…. such as a marine research centre with a lighthouse. But I would prefer to put up a civilian structure to be operated by the Coast Guard, which would be a monitoring structure to prevent China from destroying the coral reefs at Ayungin Shoal … If China employs grey zone (non-military) tactics against this civilian structure, the Philippines can appeal to the Arbitral Ruling. If China uses military force, the Philippines can invoke the Mutual Defence Treaty with the United States”. 


Professor Jay Batongbacal

College of Law, University of the Philippines  &  Director,  UP Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea.


Reported in “Collective deterrence vs Chinese sea aggression pushed” by Pia Lee-Brago,The Philippine Star, March 9, 2023 |

“Chinese operations in the West Philippine Sea are now becoming more and more clearly hostile and aggressive...We should also consider talking closely with and coordinating with allies and friends so we can engage in collective deterrence. We should be together engaging in contingency planning and coordinating our policies, our activities, our responses, so that we may all be acting under a kind of united front…We should not be afraid to consider proportional and reasonable responses. We should not shy away every time they make threatening moves and then we retreat for fear of provocation. There should be no gray area anymore… We need to begin erasing the gray zone. We need to begin acting and standing up for our lawful maritime rights. This is the only way we can move that forward. Otherwise, we might as well retreat and give up everything.”


Pamalakaya

“…the Marcos administration should … reject Beijing’s annual unilateral ban (May-August) on fishing in the South China Sea. There should be no room for any compromise, not even a coordination in regards to fishing activities in our territorial waters…No amount of alternative source of income could equate the fishing livelihood of Filipinos in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, and its significant contribution to our local food security…We remind President Marcos Jr. that China has no moral ascendancy, not especially a legal right, to impose a fishing ban on the pretext of marine conservation, because it is the one destroying our marine biodiversity and ecosystem through massive reclamation, illegal poaching, and industrial fishing expeditions.”


Risa Hontiveros

Senator

19th Congress of the Philippines


Press Release   SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES  19th Congress, September 20, 2023

“The proposed Senate Resolution No. 804, condemns the massive coral harvesting and urging the appropriate Senate Committee to conduct an inquiry into the matter… call for China to pay billions in environmental damages in West Philippine Sea (WPS), after the Philippine Coast Guard recently confirmed that the destruction of coral reefs in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal was most likely caused by Chinese maritime militia vessels… We should seek payment for damages caused by China in the WPS.  We will get billions if China is obliged to pay. They are already robbing our fishermen of their livelihood, they are even destroying our natural resources. If China can pay all its debts to the Philippines, it will definitely help in the economic crisis we are in … the government cannot tolerate the continuing harms to the environment, economy, and security brought about by China's incursions, and must explore available recourses to hold China accountable, including a claim for damages to be filed with the Permanent of Court Arbitration.”


Press Release   SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES  19th Congress, September 20, 2023

“The proposed Senate Resolution No. 804, condemns the massive coral harvesting and urging the appropriate Senate Committee to conduct an inquiry into the matter… call for China to pay billions in environmental damages in West Philippine Sea (WPS), after the Philippine Coast Guard recently confirmed that the destruction of coral reefs in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal was most likely caused by Chinese maritime militia vessels… We should seek payment for damages caused by China in the WPS.  We will get billions if China is obliged to pay. They are already robbing our fishermen of their livelihood, they are even destroying our natural resources. If China can pay all its debts to the Philippines, it will definitely help in the economic crisis we are in … the government cannot tolerate the continuing harms to the environment, economy, and security brought about by China's incursions, and must explore available recourses to hold China accountable, including a claim for damages to be filed with the Permanent of Court Arbitration.”


STATEMENT OF THE EMBASSY OF CANADA in the Philippines, Oct 21, 2023

 

“The Embassy of Canada condemns the unlawful and dangerous conduct of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels on 22 October 2023, which provoked two collisions with Philippine vessels engaged in routine operations inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal. The PRC’s actions are unjustified. China has no lawful claim to the West Philippine Sea. Its actions are incompatible with the obligations of a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Continuing acts of intimidation and coercion undermine safety, stability, and security across the region, and increase the risk of miscalculation. Canada affirms its support for a rules-based order in the South China Sea consistent with international law, including UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral decision, which is final and binding on the parties.”


Statement by the Spokesperson on provocative actions in the South China Sea,

European Union, 11.12.2023

The European Union is increasingly concerned by the provocative and dangerous behaviour of the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea on 9 and 10 December.  The pattern of unjustified, threatening actions that have taken place in recent months undermine regional security and deepen distrust, affecting the broader international community. The European Union calls on all countries to observe the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other relevant international rules and regulations for the safety of life at sea, in particular the prohibition of the use of force or coercion, and the freedom of navigation. Disputes between countries in the South China Sea must be resolved through peaceful means in accordance with and on the basis of the UN Charter and the UNCLOS, including the Arbitration Award of 2016.


Dr. Walden Bello

Member (2009-2015),

House of Representatives of the Philippines

Adjunct Professor in Sociology

State University of New York at Binghamton


[OPINION] The Christmas convoy to the West Philippine Sea: A much-needed civil society initiative, Rappler, Dec 9, 2023

“I would like to declare my solidarity with the Christmas Convoy to the West Philippine Sea (Atin Ito) …. to convey a strong message to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that it must respect the rights conferred on the Philippines and other countries bordering the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea by international law… Not only have China’s moves infringed on Philippine sovereignty, they have deprived Filipinos of their right to make their living from fishing in their home waters, forcing many to poverty and misery. The Christmas Convoy is a much-needed civil society initiative to remind China that it cannot get away with theft and piracy on the high seas.  

This is not to say that China does not have valid strategic concerns in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. It is seeking to expand its defense perimeter to counter the threat of an attack on its southeastern and southern coasts … China is, however, going about its response to the US threat in the most wrongheaded way possible: through a unilateral sea and island grab carried out by its Coast Guard. This is self-defeating. The most effective and principled way of countering the US threat is for China to work with its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demilitarize the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. Along with this must be an agreement to collectively share the riches and resources of the area. Such an approach would enable China and its neighbors to chart a path of common security and common prosperity, instead of a course that leads to division, alienation, and conflict that can only benefit the designs of powers external to the region, like the United States”.


Atin Ito Civilian Mission to the West Philippine Sea, Volunteers

 

Gerald Ignatio, Secretary-General, Manilitang Mangisda

The West Philippine Sea and Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) used to be fertile fishing grounds, with many fish caught in the past, before China took control. Now, only a few are caught, and their (fisherfolk) consumption remains high.

 

Louis Cruz Pagusan, Akbayan Youth Organizer

I think we should’nt be afraid to go to places that rightfully belong to our country. What we are doing is just visiting our fellow countrymen. We should’nt be afraid.

 

Matthew Silverio, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines

We cannot eliminate the fear and apprehension, but as we always say, we want to show we are giving importance to our fellow countrymen, our citizens, our partners in the West Philippine Sea.

 

Marcelino Tena, Dumagat Remotado

We are from the mountains but we still know that the sea is still part of our country. We know that there are fishermen who are in need of support from us in order to get back what is ours as the Chinese claim our seas.


Jun Angeles

President, COPAA

Congress of the Philippine Associations of Alberta


COPAA supports the Philippine Government's policy to demand that the Chinese Government cease its aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea. The resupplying missions on the BSP Sierra Madre should not be bullied. Ayungin Shoal cannot be converted to a Chinese military base. The Filipino fisherfolk's rights to catch fish must not be violated. The Canadian Embassy in Manila has warned that these “continuing acts of intimidation and coercion undermine safety, stability, and security across the region, and increase the risk of miscalculation". COPAA appeals to Filipino-Albertan and other Canadians to lobby the Canadian Government to follow up its condemnation of China's coercive activities.


Cesar Daus

President,

Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association of Alberta


The West Philippine Sea belongs to the Filipino people, and all other nations should respect our sovereign right to its water, seabed, and resources within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We appeal to the Philippine Government to be assertive in defending the rights of Filipino fisherfolk whom China has continually harassed and displaced from their traditional fishing grounds. The Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association calls on the Canadian Government and other countries to support the Philippines in challenging China’s illegal actions in the West Philippine Sea, a clear violation of the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruling overwhelmingly in favour of the Philippines.


Marco Luciano 

Director

Migrante Alberta


Many Filipinos around the world will remember the betrayal of former President Duterte. Instead of fighting to defend the West Philippine Sea from Chinese intrusion and takeover, he allowed it and even treasonously said that China has possession of these islands.  He has sold our sovereignty to his Chinese friends and masters. Current President Marcos Jr. has shown little signs of recovering it from China. Filipinos globally have the responsibility to fight for Philippine sovereignty, independence, and national patrimony. We need to make governments accountable.


Toh Swee-Hin

Adviser & Past President, LINGAP-Canada

Laureate, UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (2000)


LINGAP-Canada expresses our solidarity for the people and Government of the Philippines in their struggles to defend the West Philippine Sea against the illegal and aggressive actions of the Chinese Government. We call on Canada and all concerned countries to support the Philippines in defending its rights in the WPS, including condemning Chinese actions, accompanying Philippine resupplying missions, and increasing their aid to help expand the Philippines’ Coast Guard fleet. The Philippine Government must also prioritize the urgent repair or replacement of the BSP Sierra Madre that has been rusting and deteriorating since 1999. Furthermore, where has all the fish gone? The Philippines needs to urgently build a sustainable cooperative fisheries industry to fully gather the rich marine resources in its EEZ for the benefit of all Filipinos. Finally, we are also inspired by the civilian volunteers in their nonviolent defense of the WPS.

 

LINGAP-Canada urges AFJ readers and members of the Filipino-Alberta community to express your concern and solidarity for the peoples and Government of the Philippines in this conflict by writing letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaders of other political parties, as well as your Members of Parliaments to appeal for increased Canadian support (diplomatic, political, economic) to the Philippines in asserting the nation's rights in peacefully resolving this conflict and dispute.

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

By Post:   Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

By Fax:   613-941-6900

An e-message form is also available at   https://www.pm.gc.ca/en/connect/contact

 

Hon. Ali Ehsassi, MP

Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development,

House of Commons, Parliament of Canada

 

Send messages of solidarity to Philippine Government leaders urging them to continue assertive policies, strategies and actions to defend the rights of the Filipino peoples and the nation in the West Philippine Sea: 

 

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