A GROUP of young Filipinos on Monday asked President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to protect Philippine territories from Chinese encroachment, as the nation celebrated National Heroes Day.
Mr. Marcos should take a firm stand against China’s expansive activities in the South China Sea at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in the US next month, the West Philippine Sea Coalition said in a statement.
“We challenge Mr. Marcos to live up to his promise in his first state of the nation address of giving up ‘not an inch’ of our territory… and take a resolute stance on the matter in the upcoming UN General Assembly,” it said.
The youth will continue to “push back” against China’s encroachment in the disputed sea, the group said as it recalled the “legacy of the heroes that came before us, who stood up against foreign aggressors to defend our sovereignty and right to self-determination.”
“The youth will continue to be vigilant and work with our youth counterparts from the different countries affected by China’s aggression,” it added.
On Monday, Mr. Marcos urged Filipinos to always remember the people “who fought and sacrificed to establish and preserve this nation.”
“We remember and honor each of them for the sacrifices they made in our behalf so that we may live in peace, security and liberty, as well as realize our full potential as Filipinos,” he said in a statement.
The president said the legacy of heroism lives on in the hearts of ordinary people, including medical workers, laborers, farmers and civil servants.
Mr. Marcos, 64, took office in June amid tensions in the disputed waterway and naval competition for influence among Southeast Asian countries.
In his first speech to Congress on July 25, Mr. Marcos promised to protect Philippine territories, although he did not name China as an aggressor. He said he would “not preside over any process that will abandon even one square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”
He neither sided with China nor the US, saying the Philippines “shall continue to be a friend to all and an enemy to none.”
Mr. Marcos had been criticized during the campaign for allegedly taking a friendly stance toward China, which has rejected a 2016 United Nations-backed arbitral ruling that voided its claims to more than 80% of the South China Sea.
China is willing to resume discussions with the Philippines on cooperation in the sea, Liu Jianchao of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China said at the weekend, based on media reports.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian visited Mr. Marcos earlier this month, days after a conflict between the US and China on Taiwan.
The tension was triggered by US House Speaker Nancy Patricia Pelosi’s early August visit to Taiwan, which is being claimed by China. This angered China, which saw it as a US attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.
China later launched military drills near the island that have since continued.
Mr. Marcos told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a meeting this month Ms. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit “did not raise the intensity” of a situation that was already volatile.
The US official assured Mr. Marcos that US would come to the Philippines’ defense if attacked in the South China Sea, seeking to allay concerns about the extent of the US commitment to a mutual defense treaty.
Two US Navy warships sailed through international waters in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the first such operation since a visit to Taiwan by Ms. Pelosi, according to Reuters.
The US Navy said cruisers Chancellorsville and Antietam were carrying out the operations, which usually take eight to 12 hours to complete and are closely monitored by China’s military, it said.
Mr. Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo R. Duterte, led a pivot away from the US to China. He had belittled the country’s 2016 legal victory against China, saying it was just a piece of paper that could end up in a trash bin.
His daughter, Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio, said on National Heroes’ Day the Philippines should “never squander the lessons of the past” and instead use them to “awaken all the greatest heroes inside the hearts of every Filipino.”
In a statement, Ms. Carpio said disunity and acts of hostilities perpetuated by “anti-people, anti-government” groups had affected the country’s progress.
A number of Filipino patriots that the country considers heroes fought against abuses by past Philippine governments, including that of the president’s father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
On Monday morning, Marcos Jr. led commemoration rites at a national cemetery for heroes.
In 2016, Mr. Duterte, whose presidential bid was backed by Marcos loyalists, allowed a hero’s burial for the late dictator. A year later, he declared Sept. 11, 2017 — the older Marcos’ birthday — a nonworking holiday in Ilocos Norte to honor him.
Ms. Duterte, the daughter, asked the public to “protect the integrity of our independence and the interest of our nation against those who wish for us to fail, to fall and to break as a nation.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza