DFA asserts PH not pawn, bystander in WPS issue

By Priam Nepomuceno

May 5, 2024, 12:28 pm

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs dismissed claims by some groups that the Philippines is a mere pawn in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and that the territorial dispute is a matter among great powers.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo also insisted that the country is not just a bystander to the situation and would always protect its territorial interest in the WPS.

"There are some that want to project the WPS as a matter between great powers, and we are just pawns in this game. This is a notion we fully reject,” Manalo said in his message during the National Security Cluster Communications of the “Bagong Pilipinas” Media Engagement and Workshop held at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in San Narciso, Zambales over the weekend.

In his message, read by DFA Assistant Secretary Marshall Louis Alferez, the DFA chief said claims that the ongoing territorial dispute in the WPS is a matter among great powers “is a simplistic way of explaining a complex issue designed to manipulate people into being disengaged.”

“Involvement in this maritime and territorial struggle of global importance is happening at the behest of the Philippines. We are not bystanders to the situation," he said, while urging Filipinos to always protect the country’s interest and act cohesively.

"The South China Sea is shared by many coastal states, and our portion of it is what we call the WPS. For far too long, the narrative surrounding the WPS has been obscured by misinformation and manipulation," he said.

"Disinformation campaigns run rampant, seeking to distort the truth and sow discord amongst nations and amongst our people."

Manalo stressed that the "illegality of the nine-dash line" must be exposed as it is being used to threaten the livelihoods of Filipino fishers and for reclamation activities that degrade the environment.

"We should not allow ourselves to be painted as the aggressors or the violators. Our role is to stand firm. We stand firm on the foundation of international law, with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitration Award as our anchors,” he said. 

“We categorically reject the excessive claims and aggressive actions by the People’s Republic of China in the WPS, for they stand in stark opposition to the rule of law and the very principles that ensure peace and stability in our region.”

Manalo said the pursuit of peace and security for the Philippines could be strengthened further by building strong partnerships with other nations in all levels.

"We should build partnerships with states that share this advocacy, and craft venues for them to articulate their support for our principled commitment to UNCLOS,” he said.

Maritime dialogues have been established with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and the European Union. (PNA)