President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday urged Filipinos to remain steadfast in upholding the country’s sovereignty, as about 1,000 protesters descended on the Chinese Embassy in Manila to oppose the Asian superpower’s presence in the disputed South China Sea.

?MEMORIALIZING A MEMORY. Anti-China protesters carrying the tricolors and placards march towards the Chinese Embassy grounds through the capital’s financial district to oppose Beijing’s growing sway in the Philippines and as tensions rise over China’s military presence in the disputed South China Sea. AFP
In his message to honor the 77th commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), the President, hailed the heroism of Filipino and American soldiers who fought side by side during World War II.

“Today, we remember the heroism of the brave Filipino and American soldiers who stood side by side in the mountains and jungles of Bataan in defense of our liberty and democracy,” Duterte said from Jolo, Sulu.

“As we hold this solemn observance, it is my hope that we will all be inspired to remain steadfast like our forefathers and their allies in upholding our sovereignty and in protecting rights and freedoms that our people enjoy today,” Duterte added.

At the Chinese Embassy, flag-waving marchers chanted “China out” and brandished a banner saying “Defend our sovereign rights,” referring to Beijing’s expansive claims to the resource-rich waterway.

“The government headed by President Duterte is not responding. What China is doing is almost an invasion,” marcher Alex Legaspi, a 53-year-old teacher, said.

While President Duterte has largely set aside the once-heated territorial standoff over the sea, tensions have flared since hundreds of Chinese vessels appeared recently near the Manila-held Pag-asa (Thitu) island.
The Philippines called the boats’ presence “illegal” and Duterte threatened China with possible military action if it touches the island.

However, the President has repeatedly said war with China would be futile and he has no intention of getting into a conflict with the rising power he has courted for trade and investment.

Duterte has been criticized at home as being too eager to grow ties with Beijing and giving up too much leverage on the South China Sea issue.

Meanwhile, the United States has moved to boost its relationship with long-time ally and former colony the Philippines.

A small group of policemen monitored the protesters, who numbered around 1,000 according to journalists on the scene. The marchers dispersed peacefully after the demonstration.

Protesters also voiced simmering unease over the terms Chinese loans for infrastructure in the Philippines, including a massive dam-building project.

China is poised to loan some $210 million toward the construction of the Kaliwa Dam, a project that has been delayed for years and would fill gaps in the Philippines’ chronic need for infrastructure.

“We cannot allow… China to control Filipinos and the Philippines’ sovereignty,” Wilma Quierrez, 53, member of the indigenous rights group, said.

“The loan agreement signed by [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and President Duterte will send us into debt trap,” she added.

In his address, Duterte also paid tribute to the countless civilians who aided the country’s armed forces and offered against “the overwhelming force of the enemy.”

“We may not be able to memorialize all of them, but we will forever remember and honor their epic struggle and unshakeable fortitude,” he added.