Panelo hits back at Lacson for ‘Chinese Embassy spokesman’ jab
MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo on Sunday fired back at Sen. Panfilo Lacson for insinuating that he was speaking for the Chinese Embassy when he shared to the media its ambassador’s reaction to fears that some Chinese workers in the country could spy on Philippine military bases.
“There is nothing wrong with sharing the text message of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua as the same was made to provide a context and response to a query from a media reporter,” Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo earlier told reporters that he received a text message from the ambassador, who denounced claims that Chinese nationals working in Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) sites could be “spying” on nearby military camps.
“Ambassador Zhao sent me a text, he said, ‘What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us. What can you say about that?’” Panelo said.
On Sunday morning, Lacson criticized Panelo for supposedly speaking on behalf of the Chinese Embassy.
“Ambassador Zhao sent me a text. He said, ‘What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us. What can you say about that?’…PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OR CHINESE EMBASSY SPOKESMAN?
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) August 18, 2019
But Panelo argued that, as President Rodrigo Duterte’s official mouthpiece, it was his duty “to be transparent to the media and ultimately the public in sharing information which is germane to a national issue or concern, in consideration of the latter’s constitutional right to information.”
“If Senator Lacson is not concerned with the OFWs, the Office of the President is,” Panelo said.
He added that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in China “deserve to be apprised of their host country’s reaction to this issue as it concerns them.”
Panelo stressed that Lacson, as a senator, represents not only Filipinos who live in the Philippines but also those who work abroad — “unless his statement is driven by the fact [that] the OFW votes in China will not move a needle for him if he plans to run in 2022.”
The outspoken senator has been accused of “posturing” for the 2022 elections, an allegation he had denied.
This was not the first time the two engaged in a word war. Earlier, Lacson accused Panelo of lawyering for China after he allegedly questioned the account of Filipino fishermen of what happened at Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
Panelo called this a “shallow analysis.”
Lacson has also asked the government to invoke the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, calling it the only arsenal in our disposal in case the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank escalates into an armed confrontation.
The Palace official called this suggestion “premature” and “reckless.”
Panelo said that his comment on Lacson’s proposal to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty “appears to have deeply offended” the senator, who “until now has not recovered from such misery caused by my statement that such proposal is premature, reckless and irresponsible without an act of armed aggression on the part of China.”
“The good senator takes liberty at criticizing, but it seems that he cannot take any criticism directed to him as a response to his initial criticism,” Panelo said.
“This Administration is open to suggestions and criticisms, but we expect those who express the same to be ready to engage in an intellectual discourse without resorting to unsporting remarks,” he added.
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