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Asserting our rights

At least 233 professors from various colleges and universities in the Philippines have released a statement, rejecting the argument that asserting sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea “constitutes a declaration of war.”

“We reject the argument that asserting our sovereignty, protecting our fisherfolk and managing and protecting our own natural resources constitutes a declaration of war,” said the Professors for Peace in a statement shared on social media on Sunday, April 18.

The statement is an outright rejection of President Rodrigo Duterte’s usual excuse that if the country asserted its rights in the West Philippine Sea, it would lead to “war” with China – a position that has already been repeatedly debunked by several experts on the West Philippine Sea.

The educators also called the Philippine government to follow the precedent of its neighboring Southeast Asian countries in responding to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

“We call on our government to look to the concrete examples provided by Vietnam and Indonesia, which have both stood up to China and have taken concrete efforts to counter incursions into their EEZs while maintaining economic ties with China,” the group added.

Other Southeast Asian nations have been continuously aggressive in asserting their rights in the South China Sea. In 2019, Indonesia created a “red line” in the disputed area to establish its fishing rights and assert its claims in areas claimed by China. Vietnam had made various pacts aimed at outlawing existing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, including blocking the establishment of artificial islands and an Air Defense Identification Zone.

“As a responsible member of the community of nations, the Philippines must pursue peaceful and cooperative options to settle international disputes. But we must surrender neither our territory nor our national self respect by silently acquiescing to China’s unlawful actions,” the Professors for Peace added.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea has monitored around 261 Chinese ships that remain scattered in the West Philippine Sea. The Department of Foreign Affairs has finally filed diplomatic protests over the lingering Chinese ships.

Now that the Philippine government is finally doing more to assert our sovereignty and more sectors of society are making their disappointment known, providing opinions on options and possible courses of action, and encouraging our leaders to do more to protect the country’s interests, hopefully, the people who can make a difference are listening with an open mind.*

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