Lawmakers frown on Duterte’s being soft toward China

February 20, 2018 - 8:40 PM
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Map shows the delineation of the Chinese territorial claims and respective Exclusive Economic Zones at the South China Sea. REUTERS

MANILA, Philippines – Legislators on Tuesday frowned upon President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest banter that China could make the Philippines its province.

While “unacceptable,” Magdalo partylist Representative Gary Alejano said the statement was also “alarming” because “his joke is actually quite close to the truth.”

“Such irresponsible banter is a slap on the face of the many Filipinos, including our soldiers stationed in our occupied islands who work tirelessly to defend our territorial integrity from China. This only shows how indifferent and apathetic Duterte is to China’s bastardization of our sovereignty,” Alejano said.

In a separate statement, Akbayan partylist Rep. Tom Villarin said “such a joke manifests his willful subservience at the expense of our sovereignty.”

“With him as President, we will become inutile to assert our rights even through diplomacy and be sold to China for a pittance. The joke is on us if we don’t call him out for such irresponsible statements,” Villarin said.

In a speech before a gathering of Chinese-Filipino businessmen, whose guests included Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, Duterte said, “Gusto ninyo gawain na lang ninyo kaming province, [parang] Fujian, pati Philippine province of China, eh ‘di wala tayong problema. Libre na lahat (You can make us your province, like Fujian. Philippine province of China. Then we would have no more problem. Everything will be free).”

Alejano, a former Marine officer, said the Duterte administration has not been steadfast in protesting China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea territories and asserting the Philippine territorial claims.

He said that a month ago, he received reports that Chinese fishing vessels and the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy have been making aggressive moves against a Philippines Navy ship near Pagasa Island in the Spratly Archipelago west of Palawan.

“According to the information I received, a Philippine Navy ship, which was conducting regular troop rotation mission, sighted a Chinese vessel lurking approximately 4 nautical miles off Pagasa Island. A few minutes later, two more Chinese vessels were spotted heading toward the first vessel.

“Afterwards, Philippine Navy ship monitored a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) warship roughly 5 nautical miles off Pagasa Island,” he said.

According to him, the Chinese vessels proceeded to form a semi-circle formation around Pagasa Island. Meanwhile, the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy vessels closed in and shadowed the Philippine Navy ship as close as 2 nautical miles northwest of Pagasa Island, near the sandbars.

“The semi-circle formation and shadowing used by the Chinese vessels around the Philippine Navy ship displayed the ‘cabbage strategy’ being employed by China to control a specific area,” he said.

“The quick response of Chinese vessels upon the arrival of our Navy ship in Pagasa Island suggests that they are permanently stationed nearby. We could infer that China’s reclaimed areas in the West Philippine Sea, particularly Subi Reef, are being used as forward operating bases. Again, confirming the militarization in the disputed waters,” he added.

“The rapid militarization of the West Philippine Sea, lack of formal and transparent protests by our government, the reported Chinese-Philippine resource ventures – all these point to a passive and subservient strategy by the administration,” Alejano said.