The country’s top diplomat unambiguously told Beijing where to go on Monday, as the government insisted Chinese vessels were still illegally lingering in the West Philippine Sea.
“China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see... O... GET THE FUCK OUT,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted.
But just hours later, President Rodrigo Duterte said the dispute over the overlapping claims of the Philippines and China in the region is not a reason for Filipinos to be “rude and disrespectful” in an apparent dig at Locsin.
“China remains to be our benefactor and just because, if I may just add something to the narrative, just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say we have to be rude and disrespectful,” Duterte said in his weekly evening televised address.
“As a matter of fact, we have many things to thank China for in the past and itong tulong nila ngayon (their help now),” he added.
Before the briefing, Duterte was shown on Facebook receiving a Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine administered by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (see story below – Editors).
The President made his remarks after Locsin and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana issued strong statements against the continued presence of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
Lorenzana dismissed claims that his recent statements on the Chinese incursions are not aligned with those of Duterte.
Like Locsin, the defense secretary said on his personal Twitter account: “While we acknowledge that China’s military capability is more advanced than ours, this does not deter us from defending our national interest, and our dignity as a people, with all that we have.”
“Walang alisan [No leaving],” he added.
In a statement to reporters Sunday, he said: “President Duterte’s orders to us have been very firm and straightforward: defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas.”
And as part of the Philippines’ long-standing and multi-faceted relationship with China, Lorenzana said both nations maintain cooperation in various areas that are mutually beneficial to the Filipino and Chinese people.
“We can be cordial and cooperative with other nations but not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.
The latest spat between Manila and Beijing over the resource-rich waters -- which China claims almost entirely -- flared up in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, and tensions have intensified as Manila steps up maritime patrols in the area.
Locsin frequently uses strong language on Twitter and defended his latest outburst by saying: “Usual suave diplomatic speak gets nothing done.”
He also likened China to “an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend.”
The order came as his foreign affairs department accused China’s coastguard of “belligerent actions” against Filipino boats involved in maritime drills near the contested Scarborough Shoal.
China-controlled Scarborough is one of the region’s richest fishing grounds and a flashpoint between the two countries, which have rival claims.
The department said it has lodged a diplomatic protest over the Chinese vessels’ actions towards the Philippines’ coastguard during patrols and training exercises near the reef last month.
The department said the presence of the Chinese boats was a “blatant infringement of Philippine sovereignty.”
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Scarborough Shoal is 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.
China seized it in 2012 and has subsequently ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the South China Sea to be without basis.
Once-frosty ties between the two countries had warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte, who set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment that critics say have largely not materialized.
Facing growing domestic pressure to take a harder line, Duterte said last week the Philippine maritime patrols would continue, insisting its sovereignty over the waters was not negotiable. Still, he acknowledged a debt of honor to China for its assistance in providing COVID-19 vaccines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said belligerent actions of the Chinese coast guard include “shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuver and radio challenges” of Philippine Coast Guard vessels.
“It has also protested the incessant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels in Philippine maritime zones,” the DFA said.
From Jan. 1 to March 18, 2021, the DFA said Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies monitored “the continued unauthorized presence and activities of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the areas around the Pag-asa Islands, Zamora Reef, Panata and Kota Islands, Ayungin Shoal, Quirino Atoll, and Bajo de Masinloc.”
The Philippines asserted that since Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Bajo de Masinloc are integral parts of the Philippines, it can conduct maritime patrols and training exercises in these areas.
“China has no law enforcement rights in these areas,” the department said.
“The presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the Philippines’ territorial waters of Pag-asa Islands and Bajo de Masinloc, an exclusive economic zone, raises serious concern,” it added.
The PCG vessels were conducting training exercises near Bajo de Masinloc on April 24 and 25.
“The Philippines’ conduct of maritime patrols and training exercises in these areas is a legitimate and routine act of a sovereign country in its territory and territorial waters and is part of the Philippines’ administrative responsibility,” the DFA declared.
The department also rejected the April 26 statement of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that China has sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc.
“It (statement) is without basis in international laws, including 1982 United Nations Convention of the law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and is not recognized by the international community,” the DFA said.
“The Philippines calls on China to withdraw its government vessels around the KIG and Bajo de Masinloc and respect Philippine sovereignty,” the DFA said.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario bewailed why Filipinos are being chastised for wanting to defend the country against China’s continued incursions of the Philippine maritime territory.
In a statement addressed to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Del Rosario responded to recent remarks made by President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the West Philippine Sea, in which he again claimed that sending soldiers to defend the territory would end in a war that would be difficult to win.
“We would like to ask, Mr. Secretary, why our fellow Filipinos are being chastised for wanting to defend our country, rather than China? Why are we giving more importance to China over that of our own people?” he asked.
On Monday, Duterte blamed Del Rosario and retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio for the loss of the West Philippine Sea during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, under whom Del Rosario served as the country’s top diplomat.
But Del Rosario along with Carpio lodged the Philippines’ case against China assailing Beijing’s massive claims over the South China Sea before the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration, which in 2016 rendered a ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim in the disputed waterways and upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
China rejected the arbitral ruling and continued to send its Chinese warships and recently, 240 Chinese militia vessels were sighted moored in Julian Felipe Reef, which is situated within the Philippines’ EEZ.
In September 2020, Duterte invoked the Arbitral Ruling in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly but has since repeatedly said the country will not be able to defend it in case of war.
“Why is the Palace saying that there is no possibility that the Arbitral outcome can be enforced? There are various ways to enforce the outcome, one of which is to submit our case before the UN General Assembly to compel China to abide by the rule of law,” Del Rosario said.
“There are several precedents that have resulted in which a small country has won over a much larger country in the UN General Assembly,” he added.
Del Rosario also questioned why the administration is downplaying the ruling’s significance, when it is being recognized by other countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others.
In the same statement, Del Rosario also clarified that he was not seeking a position or political favor, saying “I am not brave nor am I a coward.”
The Palace sought to put a positive spin on the standoff, saying the number of Chinese ships near the Julian Felipe Reef had dropped from 220 to 14 because of warm ties with the Philippine government.
“There were 220 ships there in early March, and because the President talked to the Chinese ambassador and our warm relations with China, 136 Chinese vessels left, and another batch of 65 left too,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. “It is not true that Beijing ignored the President.”
Roque did not comment on Locsin’s combative tweet.
“We will not meddle with Secretary Locsin’s right to free speech,” he said.
The President’s long-time aide Senator Christopher Go said Duterte was “balancing everything.”
Go said the President needs to continue working with international partners in addressing the ongoing pandemic while also securing the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea.
He also said critics of the President’s foreign policy decisions should patrol the sea themselves and face the Chinese coast guard.
His colleagues were less ready to toe the Palace line.
“We must stand firm against illegal occupants in our waters and remain resolute in protecting our maritime domain in the WPS,” said Senator Grace Poe.
She said the Philippines’ friendship with its fellow nations must pave the way for common respect and rules-based approach in maintaining peace and stability in our waters
“Our presence in the West Philippine Sea is an unyielding display that we are standing our ground on what is ours and securing our people’s productive access to our marine resources,” she added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said it was time to stand up against Chinese bullying.
“I support the Department of Foreign Affairs in protesting China Coast Guard’s dangerous maneuvers and radio challenges to our PCG, and for pushing back against the prolonged and illegal presence of Chinese vessels in our waters,” said Hontiveros.
China’s actions towards the Philippines and other South China Sea claimant countries are infractions of sovereign agreements, to which Beijing is a signatory. If China cannot follow international law, including the UNCLOS, the global community must continuously band together to pressure China to comply, she said.
Excessive Chinese claims should be challenged, lest they become the norm, she added.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.