There is no difference between what the majority of Filipinos want their government to do and what the Duterte administration does now.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque stressed this on Friday, July 13, after a Pulse Asia survey showed that seven in every 10 Filipinos want the government to assert the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea, which is also being claimed by China.
“Eh talaga naman po ‘yong pinaglalaban ni Presidente Duterte…wala po tayong ipinamimigay kahit ano…(A)ng ginagawa po ng Presidente, hindi po natin binibigay ang teritoryo. Atin ‘yan. Naninindigan ang Presidente kahit anong gawin ng Tsina, atin ‘yan,” said Roque during his interview with dzRH’s Henry Uri.
[That’s really being fought for by President Duterte…we’re not giving away anything…The President isn’t giving our territory away. That is ours. The President stood firm that it remains ours no matter China does.]
“Nagkaroon pa nga tayo ng desisyon pagdating do’n sa mga artipisyal na island na nagsasabing ‘yan po ay binuo sa lo0b ng karagatan na bahagi ng ating exclusive economic zone, so tayo lang ang pupuwedeng gumawa ng mga isla na ‘yan [We in fact had a decision on artificial islands that we are the only ones who could build those within the sea that is part of our exclusive economic zone],” he added, referring to the July 12, 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Addressing territorial dispute with China has to take the backseat for now
But for now, the government must focus on what it can agree with China in terms of trade and investment and its efforts to resolve its territorial row with the Asian giant will have to take a back seat because there is yet no chance to address the problem, according to Duterte’s spokesperson.
“Pero dahil wala nga po ngayong pagkakataon na maresolba itong pinag-aagawang isla, isantabi natin ngayon ‘yong mga pinag-aagawang isla at isulong natin ‘yong pup’wedeng pagkasunduan sa larangan nga ng trade atsaka ng investment.”
Asked by Uri to comment on former Department of Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario’s claim that the Philippines had become China’s “unwilling victim” because it had allegedly acquiesced to the Asian giant, Roque said, “Kaya po tayo naging willing victim ay dahil po sa kanila. Nawala ‘yong ating pagkakahawak ng Scarborough Shoal kaya po siguro tayo naging willing victim [We became willing victims because because of them. We lost our hold on Scarborough Shoal and maybe that’s why we became willing victims],” apparently referring to officials of the previous administration.
Days before the 2016 presidential elections, Duterte’s camp filed treason and espionage charges against then outgoing President Benigno Aquino III and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV for undertaking “back-channel talks” with China that “only advanced [the] interest of our Asian neighbor.”
The complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman said Trillanes, with supposed permission from Aquino, “met with the Chinese 16 times, and he requested that the meeting [be] secret. In those meetings, Trillanes made mention that the Philippines cannot enforce coastal protection. And that made the Chinese take an aggressive [stance] and take over our areas like Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands.”
In June 2017, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales dismissed the complaint against Aquino and Trillanes because she “did not find probable cause for treason and espionage, and there was no evidence to prove that there was conspiracy between Aquino and Trillanes as alleged by the complainants.”
While the Hague-based arbitral tribunal ruled in 2012 that China’s nine-dash line cannot encroach on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the court only said that Scarborough is a traditional fishing ground of both Filipino and Chinese fishermen and people from other countries within the region. The tribunal did not rule on the issue of land territories such as Scarborough because it has no jurisdiction to do so.
This was what Roque also explained last Friday. “Alam mo…ang naresolba lang ng arbitral tribunal eh kung meron bang saysay ‘yong nine-dash line ng Tsina atsaka ‘yong iba pang isyu pagdating sa karagatan. Pero ‘yong mga pinag-aagawang mga isla hindi talaga naresolba yan kasi walang hurisdiksyon sa lupa ang UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, pangalan pa lang sa karagatan lamang.”