Hard questions needing answers for Tolentino

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    TODAY, Monday, February 1, won’t be just an ordinary fishing day for our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, especially those who have been there for days trying to eke out a living. February 1 is the first day of implementation of the new Coast Guard Law passed by the National People’s Congress of China on January 22, which gives their Coast Guard the authority to fire upon foreign vessels which they consider as encroaching and poaching inside their sea territory.

    Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino, a lawyer who is allowed to practice both in the Philippines and in the US, took hold of details of this new Chinese legislation, and was too aghast at its content that he had to make a privilege speech in the Senate to warn the nation and even the ASEAN region of its possible consequences.

    Cause of Senator Tolentino’s worry are the provisions of this new law which allows China’s Coast Guard to take “all necessary measures including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

    `Tolentino’s suggestion is for the DFA to call on Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to explain this issue, even as the two Senate committees on foreign relations and national defense prepare to conduct a formal inquiry at the Senate…’

    That this legislation really exists in Chinese jurisprudence was confirmed when our Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said last Monday that it is “none of our business” to criticize the law allowing China’s Coast Guard to shoot any foreign vessels operating within its so-called “jurisdictional waters.” He also said “it is China’s business what laws it passes.”

    But the very next day, Locsin turned 180 degrees by saying the DFA has filed a diplomatic protest against China over Beijing’s passage of that new Coast Guard Law. Locsin wrote, “After reflection I fired a diplomatic protest. While enacting the law is a sovereign prerogative, this one – given the area involved — for that matter the open South China Sea — is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law which, if unchallenged, is submission to it.”

    The Philippines, along with China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, have conflicting claims in the South China Sea, and Senator Tolentino is right in pointing out that the law has serious ramifications and possible direct, disastrous consequence for our fishermen from Zambales, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro and the rest of the eastern seaboard very near China. Even our vessels looking for oil and doing scientific research and energy-related activities are at risk, Senator Tol said.

    Tolentino also stressed that our Philippine embassy in Beijing should have done its job of letting Manila know about this legislative measure ahead of time, while it was just being discussed, so that when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the country, he could have been asked by President Duterte or Locsin about it, and how it will impact on Filipinos.

    It is disconcerting, as Senator Tol affirmed in his privilege speech, that the new law also gives the Chinese Coast Guard the power to board and inspect foreign vessels suspected of encroaching in its territory, apprehend foreigners and hold them and their seacraft inside an exclusion zone or lockdown zone. This law, if left unrepealed, will be open to abuse by implementers especially so because judicial systems often have sparse presence in the open seas.

    Tolentino’s suggestion is for the DFA to call on Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to explain this issue, even as the two Senate committees on foreign relations and national defense prepare to conduct a formal inquiry at the Senate, as a reaction to his recent privilege speech.

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