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Regional News

West Philippine Sea advocates meet with Philippine defense chief

MANILA (Press Release) — Officers of the global group National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea or NYMWPS met with Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana on Sept. 5, 2017 to present their concerns and clarify the stand of the department on issues affecting the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

The group, headed by its global chairperson and founder, Saipan-based Dr. Celia Lamkin, who joined the meeting online also took the opportunity to present to the DND secretary its advocacies and update him on the projects and plans to advance youth awareness and promote the welfare of the primary stakeholders of the contested marine area.

NYMWPS is a transnational youth group that advocates the upholding and preservation of the country’s territorial sovereignty in the contested territory which was the subject of a favorable 2016 tribunal ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague for the Philippines.

Secretary Lorenzana was advised by the group that since it’s launching on Sept. 28, 2015, the organization which operates on volunteerism has conducted several fora to raise awareness on the issues involving the West Philippine Sea; and has widened its membership by launching several chapters across the globe, as well as sending representatives to several youth summits in different parts of the world.

The DND chief was happy to hear that the group has given support to the troops assigned in the Ayungin Shoal and the residents of Pag-asa Islands through donations and livelihood projects.

Lorenzana in recent months led the flag-raising ceremony in Pag-asa Island, which raised concern from China who continues to claim territorial ownership of the area despite the U.N. tribunal decision.

Concurring to the group’s advocacy, Lorenzana shared that the development efforts of the Subi Reef by the Philippines started in 2012 and when the Chinese started to reclaim the islands in the Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross, the islands in the area are almost developed.

Representatives of the National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea pose with Philippine Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana after a meeting at his office at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Metro Manila. The group was joined online by the movement’s founder and global chair, Dr. Celia Lamkin, of the CNMI.  Contributed photo

On concerns raised by the group on the blatant disregard of China on the U.N. Tribunal ruling, Lorenzana has maintained that the Philippines need to manage the conflict peacefully and collaboratively, pointing out that the tension in Panatag Shoal has in fact somehow lessened because of this strategy. “As of now, the country cannot afford to go to war,” Lorenzana was quoted as saying, pointing out the present capabilities of the armed forces which is no match to the superpower capabilities of China.

Lorenzana reiterated the need to advance the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program, which he hopes the Philippine Congress would act on fast specifically, by granting a bigger budget that would support the program.

The DND chief also shared with the group the development program for Pag-asa Island, saying that the department has already allocated a budget for it. Foremost among the development efforts is the improvement of the runway and plans to put up a marine research station, fishermen wharf, and the possibility of promoting the island as a diving spot.

On the eco-tourism aspect, the group asked Lorenzana if there are parties from the private sector who are willing to help in the country’s development efforts for Pag-asa Island. They shared the proposal of Las Vegas-based NYMWPS deputy global chair Nick Macasaet, an engineer, to convert the island into a “barter trade zone” (http://nymwps.org/nymwps-proposal-for-kalayaan-and-scarborough-shoal-development/), which the DND chief appreciated. He shared that while there are no private sectors present in the current development efforts of Pag-asa Island, some have expressed interest to purchase and develop parts of it.

The group members are happy to hear about the plans shared by the secretary because these supports their advocacies, specifically in advancing the development of the islands and the areas within the West Philippine Sea. Similarly, Secretary Lorenzana expressed his appreciation for the group’s enthusiasm and dedication. In his personal note to Dr. Lamkin, he stated, “It was an honor and privilege to interact with the NYMWPS delegation...I welcome the effort, enthusiasm and dedication of these youths to advance our interest in the West Philippine Sea.”

A few weeks back, the NYMWPS representatives also met with Philippine Congressman Gary Alejano who promised them to support their cause by way of legislation.

NYMWPS is also getting support from Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former National Security Adviser/ Congressman Roilo Golez, as well as former Congressman and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and Bases Conversion Development Authority chair Congressman Felicito Payumo who is also NYMWPS Western Luzon and Bataan chapter chair.

Payumo assured the group that, “my position hews closely to that of Justice Carpio and former Congressman Golez. The Constitution mandates that the government protect our national territories including our Exclusive Economic Zones in the West Philippines Seas.” He added that “we will never go wrong if we follow the Constitution.”