Public Support Dichotomy: You Can’t Stand With Palestine While Silent on West PH Sea Dispute

Featured Image: The Seattle Globalist


Recently, Filipinos backed the Palestinian community after the hashtag #FreePalestine was widely shared online, sprouting various protests exposing the condition of Palestinian dissidents fighting for freedom. The movement spread fast in various states — drawing support across countries, including the Philippines. Nevertheless, contrary to Filipinos’ loud protests to support the movement is a stillness over a fiasco of Chinese occupation to the West Philippine Sea — a silence; a tale told recently portraying a parallel situation to the history of Israeli colonization.

The height of the Palestinian struggle is the rubble of conflict between territories and borders. The disputed area in Palestine catered the Jewish and Arab inhabitants after the Jews fled and sought out a new homeland after the Holocaust between the 1920s and 40s. Following their arrival, Jewish leaders proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel when the British left in 1948. But the Arab majority objected to this — staging a war between them. Vast numbers of Palestinian people were forcibly displaced as a culmination of what they referred to as “The Catastrophe.” A year after the war staged violence, a ceasefire preceded, with Israel beginning to gain power over most of the territory. Years later, in 1967, Israel subsequently annexed the Palestinian territory entirely, which is kept for several years.

Despite Israel leaving their traces of occupation in the Gaza strip in 2005, Israel still holds the majority of Gaza’s frontiers and coastal territories, determining who is required to cross and exit the area, and even the transit of commodities. Today, what we are seeing is a debris of the ongoing triumph of greed and oppression. Since the advent of the pious Muslim Ramadan period in the middle of April 2021, protests are becoming more aggressive with frequent tensions involving law enforcers and Palestinians.

On the parallel side, on January 22, 2013, the Philippines filed an international arbitration complaint against the People’s Republic of China over a maritime territorial dispute in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea. It was a remarkable achievement that has been dubbed a “revolutionary move” throughout the long-running fiasco of competing against South China Sea assertions to the Philippines-owned coastal territory.

Three years after the landmark case pursued by the Philippines, on July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal was unanimously settled in favor of the Philippines in its historical case against China over the West Philippine Sea as per the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling. It indicated that there is no legal justification for China to invoke rights to resources of the Philippines in lieu of the conditions conferred for by the convention within maritime areas situated in the 9-dash line. The issue also occupied public support in nations across the world garnering bilateral support from superpower countries.

In connection, despite the ruling with respect to the Philippines, China still holds the authority in the West Philippine Sea establishing construction activities and maintaining a presence in disputed zones. China’s consistent security in the maritime area occasioned harassment among Filipino fishers and, in the latter effect, the continuous destruction to the marine biodiversity of the sea.

In 2019, Richard Blaza and his fellow fishermen woke up before a Chinese vessel hit their boat at Recto Bank situated north-east of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, Blaza woke up Junel Insigne (Vessel Captain) to navigate the ship to prevent their vessel from being bumped by Chinese boats but it was too late for them to save the fishing boat. After the ramming, Chinese vessels left the Filipino fishers helpless on the island. Philippine authorities disregarded the account of Filipino fishermen by questioning their statements and downgraded the incident saying it’s just an accident at sea, a graze. Similarly, a boat carrying Filipino journalists was chased by Chinese militia urging them to steer away from the disputed area. And then again, Philippine authorities neglected the evidence reported by the journalist stating they will conduct a fact-finding investigation regarding the incident. These statements neglect the voices of harassed Filipinos favoring the Chinese occupants of the maritime territory. Of course, in other settings, so as not to forget the rapid growth of Chinese settlers in the city of Manila with the founding of businesses named and owned after Chinese occupants residing illegally to the metro.

This occupation by Chinese authorities displaced small Filipino fishers with fear, which is regarded as a version of Palestine’s “The Catastrophe” and the conflict continues to emerge as President Rodrigo Duterte bows out his 2016 campaign promise to put up the Philippine flag in the disputed waters to assert his countrymen that the territory is owned by the Philippines, admitting that violence may befall if the Philippines continues to avow its constitutional rights in areas being claimed by China in the West Philippine Sea, despite being situated within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Conflicting to what we are seeing online, (some) Filipinos failed to speak about these tragic occurrences as supporters of the Duterte administration keep a blind eye to the indirect colonization of the Chinese government to our maritime territory. While we support the movement to liberalize Palestine from its Israeli oppressors, a Filipino believer’s stand to support Palestine is erroneous if he is silently blinded and muted with the wars occupying his homeland only because he patronizes the president who betrayed the Philippines by establishing a puppy leadership beneficial to China.

What we can learn from the #FreePalestine movement is that dissidents and citizens as a whole should not be afraid to stand up for what is right and remain focused on participating in public discourse to untie under settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation that continually instigates violence upon the people.

What can Filipinos absorb from the political violence in Palestine is that they hold the power to overthrow oppression — they just need to speak with patriotism and fearlessness, and this I think should start from the leaders kneeling to our Chinese oppressors. When we speak, we let the world know that nothing breaks a community of voices reclaiming their identity from heinous mud of politicized hate, governing, and coercion.

The Palestine and Philippines’ deep-rooted tales of land-grabbing, oppression, political violence, and identity cleansing only differs from the passivity of their characters. When the Palestinians chose to protest on the month of sacrifice and prayer, (some) Filipinos selected to be unsighted followers, they chose silence — lethal tolerance. When tolerance remains the only rejoinder, patriotism is in question.

When you neglect to narrate your story of oppression because you fear that your right to free speech is subject to weaponization, you are abandoning the cries of your fellow countrymen suffering the same story. You won’t understand the struggle of the bigger society, and in this case, other countries, too, if you are imperceptive to the struggles in front of your community.

Jericho Zafra

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