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EU vows support for PH in WPS, open Indo-Pacific

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday said the EU is ready to cooperate with the Philippines for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

“The European Union has been very supportive of a free and open Indo-Pacific, because an Indo-Pacific free of the threats of coercion is key to all our stability, to our peace, and to the prosperity of our people, von der Leyen said during her speech at the bilateral meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang Palace.

The EU leader said they are ready to aid the country’s maritime forces by sharing information, conducting threat assessments and improving the Philippines’ naval capabilities.

EU-PH TIES. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen (left) hold a bilateral meeting and deliver a joint press statement at the Palace on Friday. Their discussions covered economic cooperation, including the resumption of the Philippines-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. PCO photo

“The European Union underlines that the 2016 award of the arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea is legally binding,” von der Leyen said.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration junked China’s “nine-dash line” claims to the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Von der Leyen said the global geopolitical landscape is changing due to “authoritarian leaders” willing to use brash methods such as threats, citing Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine that shakes the foundation of the international order.

“Security in Europe, and security in the Indo-Pacific is indivisible. Challenges to the rules-based order in our interconnected world affect all of us. Our societies pay through higher energy bills through higher food costs,” the EU leader said.

The Indo-Pacific region is under a great tension amid China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea.

One of the claimed territories is the Scarborough Shoal located in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese vessels’ continued presence and aggressive tactics inside the Philippines exclusive economic zone persist.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday asserted that “now is the time” to bring the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue to the UN General Assembly.

“Since our lives and jobs are at stake here, we cannot delay pursuing any and all options. Why should we be afraid now that we have many allies?” she asked.

Hontiveros said the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, 16 member-states of the European Union, and India, among others have expressed and reaffirmed their support for The Hague arbitral ruling.

She noted that more nations have expressed solidarity with the Philippines’ 2016 Arbitral Award.

“More and more nations are recognizing our legitimate rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) so why not seize this opportunity now? The government cannot do nothing,” she said.

Hontiveros assailed the almost daily bullying by Chinese vessels inside the Philippines’ own territory.

Last week, the senator principally sponsored proposed Senate Resolution 659, which calls on the government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to raise China’s continuous harassment of Philippine vessels to the UNGA.

Senate President Migz Zubiri, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Raffy Tulfo co-sponsored the resolution.

However, the Senate did not yet adopt the resolution as some senators requested for a closed-door meeting to discuss the issue further.

Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he was concerned that the move could weaken the country’s position if the UNGA vote goes the wrong way.

Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, said it would be hard for the Philippine government to accept Beijing’s proposal to conduct joint patrols in the WPS, but said joint disaster relief efforts are more feasible.

He noted that China is not a treaty ally, nor does the Philippines have any existing mutual defense treaty with the Asian superpower.

If China wants to help flood victims in the Philippines, Tolentino said the government should allow them because there’s a UN resolution to this.

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