The Senate leadership vowed on Tuesday to provide substantial budget augmentation to both military and civilian outposts and communities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri gave the assurance near the end of a hearing called by the defense committee seeking inputs from a wide range of stakeholders on the raging issues surrounding the country’s defense of its rights in the WPS days after a dozen Chinese boats almost marred a resupply mission in the WPS.
Deploring the acts of harassment by Chinese forces on Philippine Coast Guard and civilian boats and fishermen was happening “for too long and far too frequently,” panel chairman Senator Jinggoy Estrada said his committee held its seventh hearing to draw from “the expertise and collective wisdom of our guests in determining proper courses of action, urgent and long-term legislative interventions, and strategies to put an end to the foreign intimidation and harassment, defend our sovereign rights within our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and maintain peace and stability in the region.”
Included in the panel’s agenda were six privilege speeches by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, defense panel vice chairpersons Sen. Francis Tolentino and Sen. Robinhood Padilla, Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and Estrada himself, strongly condemning the aggression and incursions of our “neighbor from the north” in the WPS.
Estrada noted that a total of 451 diplomatic protests have already been filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs since 2020, of which 41 were filed this year alone.
“The speeches were triggered by the August 5 water cannon incident of the Chinese Coast Guard to the Philippine Coast Guard and the blockade of the resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre,” he recalled.
Just last Friday, Estrada recalled, Chinese elements harassed the resupply mission for the military contingent at the BRP Sierra Madre, involving Chinese Coast Guard vessels and four Chinese maritime militia watercraft.
“Let us bear in mind that the hostile encounters between the Philippine and Chinese vessels are not new nor recent developments,” Hontiveros, recalled in her privilege speech, citing at least three incidents going back as far as 2021.
“This Committee notes that the Philippines, in its submission to the Arbitral Tribunal, already presented numerous incidents of harassment, illegal occupation and harvesting of endangered species in the West Philippine Sea,” Estrada said.
The defense panel earlier cited the use of water cannons and sound blare against Filipino fishermen who approached Scarborough Shoal in May to June 2014, China’s harassment of M/V Veritas Voyager conducting seismic survey in Reed Bank in 2011, and countless other illegal activities since 1995.
“The bullying has been happening for far too long and quite frequently,” Estrada stressed, as he asked the government officials present to update it on the steps that have been taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Executive branch following the passage of a Senate resolution, adopted August 1, 2023, strongly condemning the continued harassment of Filipino fishermen and the persistent incursions in the WPS by the Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels. The resolution urged the Philippine government to take appropriate action in asserting and securing the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
In her opening remarks at the hearing, Hontiveros underscored the pitifully low intelligence funds of the Philippine Coast Guard. From 2009, only P10 million annually has been given to the Coast Guard. “It’s unjust that the ones defending us against a giant neighbor is receiving such meager intel funds,” said Hontiveros, speaking partly in Filipino.
She wondered aloud why, if civilian agencies “that don’t have the mandate in national security issues are getting confidential and intel funds, why not the Coast Guard? Shouldn’t they be given the bigger confidential and intel funds? Isn’t that common sense?”
A huge part of the Coast Guard’s intelligence work now relies heavily on “humint or human intelligence,” Hontiveros said. But with the huge responsibility of the Coast Guard in maritime governance, they should be augmented with “sigint or signals intelligence,” she added.
Lives of Coast Guard personnel are at stake with every patrol in the WPS the deputy minority leader pointed out.
She expressed hope that “we can all agree on taking tangible steps to fortify the BRP Sierra Madre, to safeguard Ayungin Shoal, to protect the rights and dignity of our country” regardless of each one’s politics, or ideology or conviction.
Image credits: Senate PRIB