Manila (AsiaNews) - The Philippines Bishops' Conference (CBCP) yesterday launched a "Oratio Imperata" to try to reduce tensions in the South China Sea, at the heart of a bitter long territorial dispute between Manila, Hanoi and Beijing.
Presenting the initiative Msgr. Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and confirmed the CBCP president, said that "if there is an escalation of tension and we are faced with a problem of peace, how can the Church not be involved?". The prelate added that peace "is a primary mission" for Catholics, which is why action must be taken.
The leadership of the Church in the Philippines does not enter into the merits of the international arbitration organized by the Manila government to resolve the dispute. However, the newly-reconfirmed president of the bishops recalled that it is the duty of the faithful to pray to ease the increasingly tense relations between the Philippines and China.
The prayer - released at the end of the annual meeting of the bishops - will be recited in all dioceses and parishes of the archipelago, said Msgr. Villegas, so that "the tension may ease, and justice, and equality, and prosperity and brotherhood may be served,"."
"We don't have the means to negotiate with super powers," Archbishop Villegas added. "We cannot represent the Philippines in the international court, but we can certainly represent the Philippines before God and ask God, who is the source of peace, to take care of the Philippines". The prayer, calls for peace "peace over that part of our islands and waters. We pray that questions over it may be resolved through justice and respect for people's rights. We pray that no harm will be done to our marine creatures and habitat".
The Philippines – which is seeking a non-binding international ruling at the UN court – together with Vietnam, is increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters.
For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line – which covers 80% of the 3.5 km2 - is both "illegal" and "irrational". Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.