This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Armed Forces of the Philippines

Roque says some Duterte language on West Philippine Sea ‘not accurate’ Featured

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte may have used “inaccurate” language in discussing the country’s maritime row with China, but his views on the issue have been consistent, his spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

Roque said when the President pointed out that China was in possession of the “West Philippine Sea,” he was referring to Panatag Shoal.

And when the President called the 2016 arbitral ruling a “piece of paper,” he was referring to the fact that under international law, there is no way to enforce the decision unless there is a collective security measure, Roque added.

“You know, my role as spokesperson is to clarify what the President is saying,” the Palace spokesman said.

“Let us put everything in context. Perhaps when it comes to the language of the President, he may not be as accurate, but he was consistent in what he was saying. So the ‘China in control of West Philippine Sea’ – that refers to Scarborough; the ‘It is a piece of paper’ – it’s because under international law, there is no established enforcement mechanism,” he added.

Roque was asked to react to the call of San Beda alumni for Duterte to retract his public statement on the West Philippine Sea and to uphold, defend and protect the integrity of the Philippines’ national territory. Duterte obtained his law degree from San Beda in 1972.

Roque also said former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile has accepted Duterte’s invitation to join him in his public address to discuss the West Philippine Sea row.

Roque said Enrile was expected to meet with the President yesterday to talk about how the Philippines lost Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to China and why the United States brokered a deal between the two countries during the 2012 standoff between the Philippine Navy and Chinese maritime surveillance ships.

“Tonight, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile will be the guest in the talk to the people. The President said former senator Enrile was there right at the beginning,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

“We have to listen to what he will say as a former senator because it would be good to know the roles of former senator Antonio Trillanes and former (foreign) secretary Albert del Rosario in the loss of Panatag Shoal,” he added.

Duterte has been discussing the West Philippine Sea issue in his recent public addresses to rebut claims that he is not doing enough to assert the Philippine position.

Last week, the President revealed that he had invited the 97-year-old former lawmaker to discuss the dispute because he admires his “understanding” of the problem.

“It’s for Philippines history. Until now, we do not know the role of (former) senator Trillanes, what are the contents of what is called the ‘Brady notes’ that was given to him when he (Enrile) was Senate president,” Roque said.

He was referring to the notes of former Philippine ambassador to China Sonia Brady about her meeting with Trillanes, who had held backdoor negotiations with Chinese officials on the maritime row.

“We need also his (Enrile) insights because he was the longest serving secretary of national defense in our country and during the Marcos administration, PD (Presidential Decree) 1596, which declared Kalayaan Island Group as part of our territory, started,” Roque added.

Roque claimed that China started building military bases on artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea in response to the arbitral case filed by the Philippines during the previous administration. The case, which challenged China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea, was filed partly because of the 2012 Panatag standoff.

An arbitral court based in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016 and voided China’s claims.

“That means the Scarborough Shoal incident is the reason why China has military bases on the artificial islands, most of which are part of our exclusive economic zone,” Roque said.

Duterte has accused Del Rosario of ordering the pullout of Philippine ships from Panatag Shoal in 2012.

Del Rosario, however, insisted that China was to blame for the crisis because it breached an agreement with the Philippines to withdraw ships from the shoal.

Exaggerated assistance
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros has questioned the Duterte administration’s persistent exaggeration of Chinese aid and development assistance to the Philippines.

The senator also disputed Malacañang’s statements that the country owes a huge “debt of gratitude” to China.

“We don’t owe anything to China. Perhaps Palace officials are still indebted to Beijing. It is surprising that those in power in Malacañang are protecting the name of China, even though the stench of their abuse of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea is overpowering,” she said. “What is the root of the special friendship they are talking about?”

The senator issued the statement as the government’s Investor Relations Office recently shared that China ranks only fifth among the Philippines’ sources of official development assistance. Japan remains the country’s top provider of ODA and infrastructure development partners.

The others are Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and South Korea. Japan’s total ODA to the Philippines hit $11.2 billion.

Despite the Palace’s much-vaunted pivot to China, Beijing’s ODA amounted to only $600 million.

“Malacañang should stop misleading the public. They should not pretend that China is the leading country in providing aid and loans to the Philippines. At first, it said Build, Build, Build. Why did it become Bow, Bow, Bow I guess? China is already seizing our territory in the WPS, then, are we still indebted? We, here in the Philippines, are the losers because of Malacañang’s behavior,” Hontiveros said.

In 2018, President Duterte said that China is an “important ingredient” in the Build, Build, Build program.

However, in November 2019, it was revealed that out of the 75 planned projects under the program, only nine had started construction. The poor completion rate was brought up in plenary deliberations on the proposed 2020 budget.

“Poor in a business sense, poor in foreign relations, poor in standing ground against bullies. That is what this administration is showing. More than 200 Chinese ships are still inside the country. Various sectors have protested, pleaded and stood up several times. It’s just the Palace that doesn’t go with the wind when she takes sides with the best friend,” Hontiveros added.

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