Philippine lawmaker wants holiday to honour South China Sea ruling in favour of Manila

  • Duterte critic Gary C. Alejano of the Magdalo Party-List says move would inspire Filipinos and promote national pride
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 3:10am

A Philippine lawmaker has proposed a bill to honour an international court’s ruling in favour of Manila in its maritime dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, saying the move would boost national pride.

Gary C. Alejano, of the Magdalo Party-List, wants a working holiday to commemorate a verdict in The Hague on July 16, 2016, that concluded that China had no legal basis to claim historic rights to much of the South China Sea, known in the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea.

“It is my hope that by declaring as a special working holiday the 12th of July … we can inspire Filipinos and promote national pride,” Alejano told the South China Morning Post on Thursday. The bill was received by the Philippines’ House of Representatives on December 18.

“This is also in response to the sentiment of the people dissatisfied with how the government is handling the issue of the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Alejano is a former Marine captain and fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte. His party, the Magdalo Party-List, represents retired personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their families.

His proposed bill specifically refers to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) rejection of China’s “nine-dash line” claims, which demarcates hundreds of miles to the southeast of the Chinese island of Hainan and covers some 90 per cent of the disputed waters. The PCA ruled that the claims had no basis under international law.

Beijing boycotted the hearing and has vowed to ignore the UN-backed tribunal’s decision, saying it had no jurisdiction over the dispute. “China will never accept any claim or action based on those awards,” President Xi Jinping of China said at the time.

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The 2016 ruling was welcomed by other Southeast Asian nations. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea. The government of Vietnam, which is in a dispute with China over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, came out with strong support of the ruling at the time.

If House Bill No. 8809 is signed into law, the Philippines’ Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education would be required to include “the history of events leading to the Philippines’ historic win against China” in their curriculums. The Department of Foreign Affairs would be mandated to plan and implement activities for “West Philippine Sea Victory Day”.

The bill must go through three rounds of reading before it is voted on by the House of Representatives. If it receives majority approval, the bill will go through the same process in the Senate. Barring any conflicting provisions, the bill will be sent to the president for approval.

“The bill is unlikely to become law, at least in the 17th Congress,” Alejano said, referring to the current session of the Philippines’ legislature.

“The present congress is nearing its end and as such, rallying the bill throughout the Lower House and up to the Senate is a highly insurmountable task,” Alejano said. “We also have to take into account that the Duterte administration has sidelined the arbitral ruling, so we can expect him and his allies to have at best, a lukewarm reception to my proposal.”

Alejano’s proposed bill might once set him at odds with Duterte, who critics say has bowed to China in the South China Sea. In November, he said that China was “already in possession” of the South China Sea, and that military drills by the US were derailing maritime talks between Beijing and its neighbours, according to reports.

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This wouldn’t be the first time Alejano has clashed with Duterte. He lodged the first impeachment complaint against Duterte in March 2017, alleging that Duterte committed bribery, murder and other illegal acts both as president and as the former mayor of Davao City.

The Justice Committee of the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Duterte allies, voted unanimously on in May 2017 to dismiss the complaint on the basis that Alejano had no “personal knowledge” of his allegations.