Locsin, Roque tiff over Coast Guard act

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has virtually received an earful from Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. who told the former to just “lay off” matters concerning foreign affairs.

In his Twitter post Monday night, Locsin called out Roque after making remarks that apparently overstepping the turf of the Department of Foreign Affairs, particularly when the Palace official commented on the controversial China’s passage of a law authorizing its Coast Guard to shoot foreign vessels in its claimed reefs and waters in the South China Sea.

“Harry, just lay off foreign affairs,” Locsin said.

“I am not listening to Harry Roque. Love the guy but he’s not competent in this field. We do not go back to The Hague. We might lose what we won. Harry, lay off,” the DFA chief added.

The China Coast Guard law also allows coast guard personnel to demolish other countries' structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.

But Roque on Monday said the Philippines could take China anew to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to question its controversial law.

In 2016, the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal ruled that China's massive claims over the South China Sea has no legal basis. But Beijing rejected the landmark decision.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Locsin again clarified that “Presidential (Spokesman) Harry Roque does not express foreign policy” when the latter made a statement about the military takeover in Myanmar that resulted in the arrest and detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians.

Roque described the situation in Myanmar as “an internal matter,” saying “our primary concern is the safety of our people.”

Roque said the government’s primary objective was to ensure the safety of over 1,200 Filipinos in Myanmar.

“Our armed forces are on standby in case we need to airlift them as well as navy ships to repatriate them if necessary,” Roque added.

However, Locsin emphasized that Roque’s statement was his personal opinion and did not reflect the position of the DFA.

“That was his personal opinion. And the last thing we will do is assemble our Armed Forces to evacuate our nationals,” he stressed.

According to Locsin, he is deferring to President Rodrigo Duterte on what position the government would take on the military coup in Myanmar and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“As Foreign (Affairs) Secretary I’ve taken a wait & see attitude to Myanmar. But my President is not calculating. He is a man of strong personality loyalties. In his eyes Aung San Suu Kyi & Myanmar are one & the same. I’ve noted his affection for her. I await his orders,” he said, in a separate post.

“Aung Sang Suu Kyi is the greatest woman in the world today – the embodiment of freedom and democracy whatever the fairies in Oxford who’ve never run risks may think – has been detained. Can we give the infinitely lesser domestic issues a rest?” he added.

Nonetheless, Locsin admitted that he was in touch with Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Red Kapunan on what would be the government’s “well-though-out” position to take on the Myanmar issue.

“Colonel Red Kapunan, my ambassador to Myanmar, and I are strategizing what successively well-thought-out positions to take as circumstances change; he and I are veterans of coup attempts on opposite sides. Only the President can override our moves,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said the Philippine government should not be lulled into complacency by the Chinese Embassy trying to pass off China's new Coast Guard law as harmless.

"It is not, particularly for countries with competing claims in the South China Sea," stressed Hontiveros.

While China can pass any law it wants, she said these laws could not be used in ways that violate UNCLOS and international law.

According to the opposition senator, this was an unfortunate provocation, considering that China was militarizing its Coast Guard.

She said Chinese Coast Guard was supposed to be a civilian institution, while making implied claims through its baseless nine-dash line that its sovereignty and jurisdiction extends to the West Philippine Sea.

She said China's  nine-dash line had no basis so there was no reason for them to claim territories.

"This unfounded claim of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea is illegal."

"China’s Coast Guard, deemed the largest in the world, can take military action disguised as enforcement of their maritime laws anywhere within this nine-dash line that has long been invalidated by international law. Again, this violates the Philippines’ rights under the UNCLOS," she added.

The refusal of Chinese vessel Jia Geng to submit to search within our territorial sea, the senator said, was also a violation of Filipinos' rights under the UNCLOS.

"Inside our territorial sea, we have an unambiguous right to board and inspect. If we talk of COVID, our law applies, not China's," she said.

Topics: Harry Roque , Teodoro Locsin , South China Sea , Philippine Coast Guard , Department of Foreign Affairs
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