Perhaps in an attempt to be humorous, the President’s spokesman Harry Roque last year said we were “best friends forever” with China, which would surely give us first crack at COVID-19 vaccines they were developing.
For the most part, the Palace mouthpiece was correct. Since then, China has delivered more than 16 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, out of a total of 28 million doses that have arrived in the Philippines.
On the administration’s part, it certainly has lived up to being Beijing’s BFF. And this would be a truly positive development, were it not for China’s continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea, and its jingoistic behavior whenever its excessive claims in the South China Sea—which have been debunked by a United Nations tribunal—are called into question.
There is ample proof of the administration’s almost slavish behavior whenever China is concerned. On the fifth anniversary of the landmark Hague ruling that struck down China’s nine-dash line claim to the West Philippine Sea on July 12, the Palace spokesman rejected out of hand claims that Filipino fishermen were being blocked by Chinese boats from fishing in Philippine waters.
“I dispute that,” the Palace mouthpiece said, despite well documented instances of Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese ships.
When fishermen this month found a Chinese device later identified as an ocean bottom seismometer that can be used for oil exploration, the Palace spokesman’s first instinct was to say that the government was confident that the Chinese were not searching for oil in Philippine waters.
In fact, like clockwork, the default Palace response to any question about Chinese activities that may be harmful to Philippine interests is denial.
It is a small wonder, then, that Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto this week called out President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that he is pursuing an independent foreign policy—a point the Chief Executive likes to make when he speaks out against the United States, a long-time ally.
In a statement after President Duterte’s sixth and final State-of-the-Nation Address, Recto finally called a spade a spade by saying the Chief Executive isn’t really pursuing an independent foreign policy as he claims.
“I don’t think we do have an independent foreign policy. I think the President is pro-China so that is not an independent foreign policy as far as I am concerned. And then you see it in the body language and the words that he utters in favor of China,” Recto said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel Tuesday.
Recto added that there is nothing wrong with having good relations with our neighbors, but this is a problem that will be passed on to the next administration.
Reacting to the President’s insistence in his SONA Monday that the Philippines would be “massacred” if it went to war with China, Recto said a nation need not go to war to assert its sovereignty. One way to deal with this would be to work with the country’s allies to pressure Beijing into behaving like a good neighbor.
That, rather than the constant kowtowing at the Palace, sounds a lot more like an independent foreign policy.