SEA and air assets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command, the lead unit watching over the West Philippine Sea, hold joint interdiction exercises in waters off Brooke’s Point, Palawan in November. — WESTERN COMMAND-AFP

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

CHINA could not be expected to change its stance and course of action in disputed parts of the South China Sea after Philippine senators signed a resolution on Wednesday condemning what they called harassment and encroachment by Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime territory.

“Probably not,” said Herman Joseph S. Kraft, a professor and former chair of the political science department at the University of the Philippines, when asked on how Beijing is likely to react.

“The Chinese are probably going to be more sensitive to such statements if it was President (Ferdinand R.) Marcos (Jr.) making it,” he told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino, in a privilege speech on Wednesday, said they want Mr. Marcos to bring the legislative body’s formal position when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during an official visit to Beijing on Jan. 3 to 6.

The Senate adopted the still unnumbered resolution expressing “disgust” over China’s maneuvers in the South China Sea.

“As it is, China is already increasingly more active in the WPS (West Philippine Sea) without having to react to the Senate’s statement,” Mr. Kraft said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Marcos, meanwhile, said that objections against violations on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will only be effective if nations unite behind the call.

“Every action that might be taken that objects or brings light to a possible violation of the UNCLOS  (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is much stronger when it is brought about by a group of nations such as ASEAN and if the EU, now with our strategic partnership, is able to also join their voices to that,” Mr. Marcos said in a live-streamed press conference at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union Commemorative Summit in Brussels, Belgium.

He said the EU’s commitment to the doctrine of behaviors in the South China Sea is already “a very big step” for the Philippines.

“That we now have the strategic support from not only the member-countries of EU but of EU itself, because EU and ASEAN together comprise the largest, most well-organized regional aggrupations, then that will be a very strong position to be able to negotiate even individually for the Philippines or jointly with ASEAN,” he said.

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin “Koko” D. Pimentel III said the resolution presented the current sentiment of the upper chamber.

“This should be sent to the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” he said in a statement. “We stop short of directly communicating with the foreign embassies. We should always course it through the DFA.”

The DFA did not respond to a WhatsApp message seeking update before the print deadline.

The minority leader, who chaired the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Congress, said that “the actual, concrete, practical steps to take regarding the West Philippine Sea should be made or taken by the executive branch.”

The administration, he said, should “bring the incidents in the WPS up in the meetings during the state visit for the purpose of how to avoid similar incidents in the future.”

Lucio Blanco Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that the Senate condemnation will unlikely affect bilateral relations between the Philippines and China.

“Filing protests and expressing disagreement over disturbing actions taken by a rival claimant in a contested flashpoint are normal and expected,” he said.

China has rejected a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the disputed waterway. It rejected China’s claim to most of the sea based on a 1940s nine-dash line map.

In a statement on Thursday, Senator Joseph Victor “JV” G. Ejercito urged the government to speed up efforts to build up defense forces and military equipment in the South China Sea, noting that Beijing’s military assets are moving closer to Manila’s coastline.

“This is already a clear and present danger. It can no longer be ignored,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “If you saw the most recent pictures of the disputed islands, there are full blown military bases. That’s a lot. It’s like a city already.”

“If we continue to be a laggard, they might even annex Palawan,” he added.

At the House of Representatives, a coalition of progressive party-lists reiterated their push for the administration to take a more assertive stance on the Philippines’ maritime territory.

“Based on the pronouncement of the chief executive that we are friendly to other countries, [it has come to a point wherein] our territory is exposed not only to China but to other countries like the United States,” Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel said in a press conference on Thursday.

Assistant minority leader and Gabriela Part-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas, for her part, said the government’s responses do not inspire nationalism.

“We keep calling for patriotism, yet we couldn’t prevent instances like this. If we want to show patriotism and love for the country, let us not allow the Chinese to take swarm over the Philippine Sea,” she said. — with Beatriz Marie D. Cruz