MANILA – Dozens of people joined a protest Thursday near the Chinese consulate in Makati City of Manila that criticized China for its actions in disputed maritime areas two years after a court in The Hague ruled on the issue.
Around 50 protesters took part in the peaceful event, organized by left wing group Akbayan, which lasted about an hour, an efe-epa journalist reported.
The demonstrators carried placards and signs that read “Fight for sovereignty” and “Philippines owns the Scarborough Shoal” in reference to the reefs and rocks in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines, China and Taiwan.
The protest comes on the second anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague’s ruling of July 12, 2016 that found in favor of the Philippines’ claim to islands in the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal, and dismissed Beijing’s claim to islands inside its so-called “nine dash line.”
After two years in power, the president of the Philippines has set aside the court’s ruling on the maritime dispute with China, which has invested some $7.2 billion in the Philippines.
Beijing refuses to enforce the court ruling and maintains its activities in the naturally abundant South China Sea, including the construction of military infrastructure, a surface-to-air missile system and an airstrip.
Amid the territorial dispute, China has found Rodrigo Duterte – who had been president for only for two weeks at the time of the ruling – to be its best ally as he has ignored the demands of several civil society organizations for greater Philippine control over those territories.
Duterte, who has visited Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in Beijing, claims that the Asian giant is willing to wage wars on the Philippines if it insists on claiming the islands, so he opts for a diplomatic approach which could bring favorable investment and loans to the country.
The South China Sea has been a major source of regional tension as Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the Spratly islands as well as oppose China’s military expansion.
In addition to geostrategic threats posed by the Chinese presence in the region, the fishing grounds in the South China Sea have been overexploited since 2012, when China giant occupied the Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing zone for Filipino fishermen.
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal pointed out that the traditional fishing techniques of the Filipinos helped maintain the natural balance of the fishing grounds, now threatened by big Chinese shipping companies.
Batongbacal said that the main issue is the risk of destroying the livelihood of thousands of Filipino families who live off fishing in these waters, so the government should defend their rights.
Dindo Manhit, president of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, said that to enforce the international court ruling is more than just a legal responsibility – it is a moral obligation for the Filipinos to protect their victory based on international law.