Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. again expressed dismay over the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, calling it an embarrassment to the Philippine government.
“What is disappointing is that despite our friendliness and uninterrupted friendship China continually embarrasses our govt (government) by swarming all over OUR exclusive economic zone,” Locsin said in a tweet on Friday. He was asked by a netizen if he agrees that China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea show that the East Asian giant has taken advantage of the Duterte administration’s friendship.
“No. They came in when we were rude under PNoy. And when we were welcoming under GMA; and clueless under FVR,” Locsin said, referring to the previous Presidents Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Fidel V. Ramos.
This is the latest in a string of strong statements the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has made in response to the swarming of over 200 Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island, one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea and seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan.
The DFA called the deployment of Chinese vessels there “illegal,” while Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a Malacañang press briefing said the vessels “have no business being there” and should go away. Earlier, Locsin also said he is not afraid of war as China “took” what “is ours” in the South China Sea.
China on Thursday responded by maintaining its claim that the Spratlys, which it calls Nansha Islands “are within China’s territory, for which we have sufficient historical and legal basis.” Earlier, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said Beijing is verifying reports that its vessels have been surrounding Pag-asa. He said the ships may be manned by “unarmed” Chinese fishermen, but Malacañang said reports from the military suggest militiamen have been deployed there.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July 2016 junked its nine-dash line claim and recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, which the government calls West Philippine Sea. However, China continues to reject the landmark ruling.
Another netizen said Chinese vessels came in despite Duterte’s “friendliness and subservience,” and asked if the Philippines should enforce the tribunal’s decision then.
“Why do add ‘subservience’?” Locsin said. “Oh, the Tribunal does not expect us to enforce its decision: in fact the Tribunal opposes any enforcement because it means war.”
Duterte has said he could not go to war against China but promised to bring the arbitration ruling up within his term. On April 4, the President said he would ask his soldiers to “prepare for suicide mission” if China does not heed his warning to lay off Pag-asa Island, but he later stressed he’d rather go into a compromise instead of an all-out war.