By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines
With little more than two weeks to go before voters head to the polls for the May 9 presidential election, candidates have stood firm against China's alleged intrusion in Philippine waters but agreed to seek diplomatic means in solving the maritime dispute.
On Sunday, Senator Grace Poe, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and former Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II all noted that the international community supports the Philippines in an arbitration case it has lodged in The Hague over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea/West Philippines Sea.
The four contenders for the presidential race voiced their support of a fisherman who asked what assistance they could offer to people like him amid harassment he claims his profession experience in the waters during the third and last leg of presidential debates.
Poe, daughter of local movie action hero Fernando Poe Jr., said that the country should strengthen its coast guard to protect the rights of its fishermen.
"The West Philippine Sea is not a personal aquarium of the Chinese. It's ours and we should persuade our allies. If they are true friends, they should help us and we should not give that up," the independent candidate added.
Asked by a fisherman how she plans to help amid the harassment they say they experience in the disputed waters, the senator cited other countries that support their own.
Poe added that if she is elected President, she will ensure additional equipment and help for the coast guard, as well as for fishermen and their families.
She compared Filipinos to schoolchildren being bullied.
"I will increase the number of coast guards and give handheld radios to fishermen so they can ask for help from the authorities," she vowed.
Elsewhere, both Santiago (People's Reform Party) and Roxas (ruling administration's Liberal Party) agreed that diplomacy is the key, but the former was also interested in going on the offensive.
"If they are in our waters and take our fish, I will call the coast guard, I will bomb those," she said in Tagalog.
"We will talk with them then tell them we have world public opinion behind us. The world believes the water is ours. That's why, they should bully us."
Meanwhile, Roxas said that Filipinos should accept the fact that the Philippine government is no match for China when it comes to military assets.
But he said Filipinos should not give up on their claims in the South China Sea. He said this is why the government went into arbitration.
Roxas assured the public that Filipinos can rely on the influence of the international community if the government wins the case against China.
Meanwhile, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte offered to jet ski to a disputed area of the West Philippine Sea and plant the nation’s flag on China’s reclaimed airport.
"I will personally go to one of the islands in the disputed sea and plant the Philippine flag to stake the country's claim. If they will kill be it's up to you to cry here in the Philippines," said the presidential candidate from the country's south.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, stalwart of the United Nationalist Alliance, vowed that they will provide assistance to fishermen while the country's arbitration case against China is ongoing.
China claims almost all of the maritime area. Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
The Philippines has challenged China at the arbitration court in The Hague.
Beijing, however, has not recognized the case.