MANILA – Senator Jinggoy Estrada called on Friday foreign delegates attending the 31st Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF31) to discuss and find a resolution to the incidents happening in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and other matters in the South China Sea as a whole.
Speaking to the APPF31's first plenary session about political and security matters, Estrada said that it is incumbent upon the representatives of respective governments "to raise serious concerns over recent developments in the WPS, which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdictions."
These developments, he said, have the potential to undermine the peace and stability that APPF member-countries have collectively worked on over the years.
"It is in our purview as representatives of the people to address this issue with the utmost diplomatic care and urgency," Estrada said.
He said concerns that each participant expresses reflect the collective commitment of the APPF to uphold a "rules-based international order."
"It is through these rules that we can navigate the complexities of competing claims and interests in a manner that fosters understanding and preserves regional stability," he added.
The senator also cited the recent talks between President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jin Ping on the sidelines of the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, which affirmed that the situation in the South China Sea does not comprise the entirety of Philippines-China relations, and that maritime issues should be managed properly.
"The Philippine government, under the leadership of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has been consistent in trying to address the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea through diplomatic means, in the hope of decreasing tension in the area," Estrada noted.
"I also urge each delegate to urge their respective governments to affirm multilateralism. Cooperation between key nations can set an example and in turn encourage other states to likewise engage in collaborative security initiatives," he added, urging delegates to support the Philippines' bid to be elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the entire forum this year, said Filipino lawmakers are trying to practice diplomacy to the Chinese and other foreign delegations to push for the crafting of a code of conduct in the WPS and earn support for securing a seat in the UNSC.
Where's the US?
Senator Imee Marcos, meanwhile, noted the absence of representatives from the United States.
In a statement, Marcos said the US should be aware of its crucial role in the Asia-Pacific and maintaning peace in the region.
"The APPF is sadly blighted by the absence of the US, surely the major Pacific power. Did we fail to invite the Americans in time? Was there some failure of coordination which ultimately led to their absence?" she asked.
"Certainly, the Americans understand the importance of their participation for any meaningful dialogue for peace and security in this vast region."
The other APPF31 attendees are Australia, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Laos, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and Mongolia.
The US belongs to the America sub-region along with Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.
The Philippines and the US just held joint maritime and air patrols in the WPS on Nov. 21 to 23 to enhance the interoperability of military forces.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Friday said there would be more joint patrols "because it is entirely within the rights of the Philippines to patrol anywhere, whether in the high seas or in the area where it has jurisdiction pursuant to international law."
Protection of environment
Meanwhile, Senator Loren Legarda urged participants to be more active in the protection of the environment through legislation.
“Together, let us forge a future where economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand – a future where development aligns with, rather than compromises, our environment. Let our laws transcend generations but meet the urgent needs of the time,” Legarda said.
She encouraged fellow lawmakers to rethink their approach to critical infrastructures in the face of climate change, habitat loss, and pollution.
“Our goal is clear: infuse meaning and purpose into low-carbon, green, and sustainable facilities that care for both people and the planet. An ecosystem-based approach should be at the core of our legislative endeavors in this thematic area,” she said.
Senator Mark Villar pushed for more digitalization in business transactions in government.
“We are all witnesses to how digitalization is rapidly changing our economic and social landscape. In fact, our roundtable today is not a fixture in the past Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forums, which signifies the imminent need for our intervention in digital technology,” Villar said in his opening statement.
“As the impact of digitalization has become more apparent each day, I fully support the e-governance digitalization plans of our government. However, I also recognize the points that need to be addressed first before we fully embed our government in the digital world.”
He said the pursuit of a digital future should be founded on strong safeguard measures and effective digital infrastructure.
He noted that the recent cyberattacks against government websites have shown how dangerous it would be for the government and the people should digital technology fall into the wrong hands.
Villar said artificial intelligence (AI) technology is an important aspect of digital technology.
He encouraged the other member countries to pursue collaborative efforts for the regulation, adoption, and use of AI, given its advantages and disadvantages. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)