Editorial: Welcome to China

IT SURPRISES us why the sudden courage for the Philippines to officially launch a beaching ramp in Pag-asa, one of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

In a gesture most ironic as we are supposed to celebrate the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day every June 9, through Proclamation 148, signed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Jan. 24, 2002, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, tagging along a number of journalists, inaugurated the docking facility.

The ramp’s construction started in 2017 and would have been finished in a year. Lorenzana said unfriendly weather and rough seas delayed its completion, and thus the 2020 launch.

Where it was impossible for large ships to dock, the ramp can now host Navy ships carrying engineering supplies to repair the dilapidated runway in the island.

Construction materials and heavy equipment can now be unloaded, paving the way for the building of a military barracks, an ice plant for fisherfolk, power-generation installations, a weather station, civilian homes and a school, said Lorenzana.

This week, specifically on Independence Day, June 12, the Philippines will also inaugurate a sheltered seaport on another side of Pag-asa. This is meant to provide support to fishing vessels seeking safety during stormy weather.

This should make the island, internationally known as Thitu, more livable “without militarizing it.” Pag-asa is close to one of China’s man-made islands in the hotly contested Spratlys. But Lorenzana assures, “The Chinese have said that they will not attack us so we’re safe here.”

Ah, so. We’d have thought it was outright Philippine assertion to its sovereign rights over the territory, but the statement sounded like the project only sees the light of day with Beijing concession—that they won’t attack us. And no small help that we haven’t heard a word from China protesting the construction of the facility.

To recall, the Philippines won its case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which recognized our sovereign rights within 200-nautical miles at the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Beijing, however, continuously rejects The Hague ruling, insisting on historical references.

This week, on the eve of the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterates the need for the Philippines to push its rights over the WPS. In an online forum, he said, “We have to make this an election issue in 2022.” The new batch of leaders should be one that will assert the arbitral ruling.

Upon arrival for the ramp facility launch, everyone started receiving SMS roaming messages that welcomed them to China. Lorenzana was amused, saying the Philippines should build for a stronger signal in the area. For one moment, we thought he was being metaphorical.