By Darryl John Esguerra

QUAD DRILL. The naval vessels of the Philippines, US, Japan and Australia participate in a multilateral maritime cooperative activity (MMCA) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on April 7, 2024. Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has taken on a “multilateral approach” on the maritime dispute in the WPS. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – The Filipinos’ patience on the continued aggression of China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is already ”stretched to the limit” that they won’t just sit idly and allow their compatriot fishermen to suffer, the Philippine ambassador to the United States (US) said.

Speaking to the Philippine media covering the landmark trilateral summit in Washington DC among the Philippines, the US, and Japan on Thursday (Manila time), Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has taken on a “multilateral approach” on the maritime dispute in the WPS.

He said while the Philippines cannot spell out China’s intentions, the country clearly knows what it wants to do — “to protect our territory and our sovereign rights.”

“You know, for so many years, the Filipino patience has been stretched to the limit. And we are now at the point where (we’re not) just going to sit and allow and see our fishermen suffer and not be able to fish in the areas that they’ve been fishing in – fishing grounds for hundreds of years,” Romualdez said.

“That is what the President is fighting for, that is what we’re all fighting for. We just want to be given our right to be able to explore our own environment, our territory, the respect for international law.”

The diplomat said it is about time for the Philippines to express its resolve to settle the issue through dialogue “in a manner that is not intended to push another country for a conflict.”

Marcos is in Washington DC to meet with his counterparts, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, to advance economic and maritime cooperation amid China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, part of the vast South China Sea that Beijing claims entirely.

China’s sweeping nine-dash claim, which is now a 10-dash claim, was already debunked in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Romualdez said the historic trilateral summit would define the future and direction of the Indo-Pacific region, that the Philippines could take comfort in the fact that there are so many “like-minded nations” supporting the freedom of navigation, the rule of law, and the 2016 arbitral award that upheld the country’s claim in the disputed waterways.

“So, these are things that we are simply fighting for. We’re not asking, looking for any conflict with any country. In fact, we’re reaching out to the ASEAN region. Again it’s a multilateral approach,” he said.

“This is a policy that the President has spelled out to all of us. That we want to be able to solve these issues multilaterally, not just because we have a strong ally like the United States.” (PNA)