President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday said the Philippine government had already used the hotline mechanism he proposed with China during his state visit to Beijing this month following reports of the Chinese Coast Guard driving away Filipino fishing boats in Ayungin Shoal last week.
Asked about the timing of the incident, which happened right after he returned from Beijing where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Marcos acknowledged that both countries haven’t come to a compromise yet.
“So, we have immediately used that thing, that mechanism that I talked about where we can even immediately contact the Chinese government, and hopefully our counterparts on the other side can bring it to President Xi’s attention. We have done that,” the President said.
“But it does not preclude us from continuing to make protest and continuing to send note verbales concerning this [shadowing],” he added.
The Philippine Coast Guard has already increased the number of its patrol vessels in the West Philippine Sea after Chinese vessels drove away the Filipino fishing boat in Ayungin Shoal on Jan. 9.
In a statement, the PCG said the increase in patrol vessels would ensure the safety of Filipino fishers.
Ayungin Shoal is some 100 nautical miles off Palawan and is likewise near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea reportedly occupied by China.
The PCG said the fisherfolk’s statements will be forwarded to the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in case the country would file a diplomatic protest.
Meanwhile, a bill advocating environmental protection and preservation of the West Philippine Sea has been gaining ground among key government agencies.
House Bill 6373 of Palawan Rep. Edward Hagedorn aims to declare all low-tide elevations and high-tide features, and an area of three nautical miles around the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as a Marine Protected Area.
This amid heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, where a Chinese coast guard ship recently blocked a Filipino fishing vessel.
As of press time, Hagedorn has met with officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Department of National Defense (DND).
CIBAC Rep. Eddie Villanueva also expressed his full support for the bill, calling it an “important and timely initiative that could provide a common ground and shared interest for all contending states.”
“I thank the DENR, DILG, DND, and all the other experts who have engaged me in discussion and have shown genuine interest in protecting our environment. The discussions made during the meetings are positive and we have found that our views are aligned,” Hagedorn said.
“The invaluable insights of these government officials will all help in shaping the bill into something that will strengthen the protection and preservation of the atolls, coral reefs, and other vital marine resources in the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal. Indeed, this is a cause that we should unite for,” he added.
Hagedorn said he is set to continue discussions with the said government agencies to further enhance the bill. Meanwhile, the bill is set to be heard on January 25.
Hagedorn also thanked Speaker Martin Romualdez for prioritizing the hearing of HB 6373.