Several senators sparked debate online after they were seen wearing matching shirts with "West Philippine Sea" and the Philippine flag printed on them during the FIBA World Cup match between the Philippines and China on Saturday, Sept. 2. Despite the flak, they said that it was their way of showing unity in the issue of the West Philippine Sea.
Senate President Migz Zubiri and senators Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher "Bong" Go, Joel Villanueva, and Pia Cayetano were seen wearing the shirts as they cheered for Gilas Pilipinas, which won the game 96-75.
"Equally important is that this win over China’s team is a morale-boosting win for every Filipino, especially amid recent challenges we are facing over the West Philippine Sea," Go said in a statement.
He added that the shirt was only given to him by a colleague while noting that the shirts signify their unity and unending support for the team and the whole country.
"Nais lang namin ipakita sa pamamagitan ng T-shirt na iyon ang aming pakikiisa at walang tigil na suporta sa ating koponan at sa buong sambayanang Pilipino. Atin ang West Philippine Sea, atin rin ang panalong ito!"
Zubiri, meanwhile, said that the game was "the sweetest of all" as the country was able to defeat the "bully in the North."
“This was the most important game of all! For our Pride and for our Mother Land the Philippines. We showed the bully in the North that we shall not be allowed to be bullied in our own home and that we rallied together as a Nation to pray and cheer for our Team Gilas!” Zubiri said. “We may not have won any of our games for the world championships but this win was the sweetest of all,” he said.
He also noted that their shirts were a response to China releasing a 10-dash line.
“They released 10 dash lines so wearing this T-shirt is a statement that the West Philippine Sea is ours. Long live Gilas! Long live the Philippines!” Zubiri added.
Dela Rosa echoed the same message, saying the statement shirts were meant "to awaken the patriotic spirit of our Gilas Pilipinas and motivate them to exhaust all their remaining talents, skills and teamwork in order to secure the victory which is symbolic for us Filipinos in light of the recent developments in the West Philippine Sea."
Senator Francis Tolentino, who wasn't present during the game, told Teleradyo Serbisyo that he didn't see anything wrong with it.
"It is one way of showing our unity. Hindi ito first time makita. 'Yung opening game natin sa Philippine Arena, may nakasuot na ng ganoon. Kulay pula nga lang," he said. "Walang masama doon sa nagpapakita ng kanilang personal political belief na atin ang West Philippine Sea even if in a sports that is FIBA. I don't see anything wrong with that."
The West Philippine Sea has been a source of tension between the Philippines and China, where the latter has been exerting its claims in the area.
China has also recently released the 2023 edition of its "standard map," which shows its apparent claims on the territories of India, the Philippines, and Malaysia, among others.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the map is the “latest attempt to legitimize China’s purported sovereignty and jurisdiction over Philippine features and maritime zones (and) has no basis under international law.”
"The Philippines therefore calls on China to act responsibly and abide by its obligations under UNCLOS and the final and binding 2016 Arbitrarial Award."