De Lima Files Bill Declaring July 12 As ‘West Philippine Sea Victory Day’

Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure declaring July 12 of every year as a “West Philippine Sea (WPS) Victory Day” in meaningful observance to the country’s arbitration victory against China over the WPS.

In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 2201, De Lima said July 12 should be declared as a special working holiday to mark the historic decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands.

The decision favors the Philippines’ sovereignty over the WPS and invalidates China’s “nine-dash line” claim on the highly contested islands in the entire South China Sea (SCS), she noted.

“[I]t is fitting and compelling that the 12th of July of each year be a Special Working Holiday dedicated to honoring this landmark decision favoring the Philippines, in the hope of instilling national pride among our people and motivating our government to constantly pursue and promote policies and programs consistent with the PCA ruling,” she said.

The WPS is the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the SCS, which has been one of the most popular territorial waterways in the world with decades-long history of maritime dispute among seven claimant-countries, including the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.

Amid China’s aggression and incursion in the WPS, the Philippine government under then President Benigno S. Aquino III filed in 2013 an arbitration case – which is based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — with the PCA, to settle the maritime dispute.

In July 12, 2016, the PCA released a decision upholding the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the WPS and declaring that China’s controversial “historical” claim, outlined by a nine-dash line covering almost 90 percent of the contested waters, has no legal basis in international law.

The PCA also ruled that China’s large-scale land reclamation has “caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems,” thereby violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ.

De Lima, who was then justice secretary, was part of the Philippine delegation who argued the Philippine’s case before the PCA, along with former Solicitors General Francis Jardeleza and Florin Hilbay, former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, among others.

Under SB No. 2201, Department of Foreign Affairs is tasked to “plan, design and implement activities” for the “West Philippine Sea Victory Day” to ensure the meaningful observance of the holiday.

“The significance of this historic decision shall continue to [r]emind the government to continually uphold our rights in the West Philippine Sea,” she pointed out.

At the House of Representatives, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano has earlier filed a similar measure, logged as House Bill No. 8809, which also mandates the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to include the history of the country’s victory in the PCA as part of the curriculum.

Mr. Duterte, who has always shown fondness to China, has since failed to stand against Chinese incursion in the WPS, and has indirectly given up the Philippines’ entire EEZ in the WPS.