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South China Sea: Filipino bishops urge Manila to ‘defend what is ours’ amid Beijing’s ‘aggression’

In a joint pastoral exhortation, the bishops, who serve in regions surrounded by the resource-rich waterway, said the discord was not only about marine resources but the livelihood and future of the Philippines’ fishermen.

The prelates added the “Church stands with the fisherfolk to give voice to their fears and anxieties”.

They said it was “morally” acceptable to turn to “the friendship of allies” if diplomacy failed to yield concrete results.

“All legal means must be exhausted so that what nature has so bountifully bestowed on us may be ours and may feed generations of Filipinos yet to be born.

“And if present diplomatic efforts do not suffice, then it is permissible – morally necessary even – to have recourse to the friendship of allies who can help us defend what is ours,” the bishops said in a veiled reference to the US, with which Manila has boosted security ties and granted expanded access to its military bases.

The Catholic leaders, however, stressed that starting an armed conflict over the hotly-contested sea was not a “moral option”.

“We seek peace, and it cannot be a moral option to wage war,” they said.

The bishops also took aim at the country’s leaders for “allowing our own fisherfolk to be driven out of fishing grounds over which international law recognises our rights” and urged them to step up, saying “words are not enough”.

The Philippines has in the past accused the Chinese coastguard of confronting its ships, including firing water cannons at them.

Though the bishops had spoken openly about the social issues in the Catholic-majority country, their statement on Manila’s foreign policy was an unusual move.

They concluded their message by calling on the faithful to protect the rights and lives of the fishermen and