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Senators slam Duterte’s ‘defeatist’ stance vs China

MANILA, Philippines  — Senators, including administration allies, on Tuesday blasted President Rodrigo Duterte’s “defeatist” position when he said he was “inutile” in defending the country’s territory against Chinese intrusion, warning that his remarks would only embolden China to further “bully” the Philippines.

“We are not inutile as a country,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate defense committee, said in reaction to the President’s remarks in his address to a joint session of Congress on Monday.

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“We belong to the community of nations and we are all bound by the rule of law that is internationally recognized. There lies our strength,” Lacson told the Inquirer.

Duterte, who once promised to ride a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag in the contested Spratly Islands, had opted to shelve the country’s landmark victory against China in the international arbitral tribunal in 2016 in exchange for loans and aid from Beijing. He said he could not lead the country to a war against China to assert the tribunal’s ruling.

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The arbitral ruling voided China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea under international law and declared that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea. China rejected the decision.

“Being weak is weakness enough, but to let our adversary know how helpless we are will discourage even our allies to stand by our side,” Lacson said.

Gordon ‘disappointed’

Sen. Richard Gordon said he was “disappointed” and found it “demeaning” for Duterte to utter his defeatist statement during his State of the Nation address.

The senator said defending the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, did not mean going to war against China.

“I don’t know why he has to ingratiate [himself] to China all the time simply because he’s asking (Chinese President) Xi Jinping for (China) to give us discount (if they develop) a vaccine for (COVID-19),” Gordon said in an online media briefing.

“He’s pleasing China too much… I don’t think we have to kowtow (to China),” he said. “To my mind, we should always assert (our sovereignty) … When you are being bullied, you have to hold your ground because if you don’t, you will be bullied more.”

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Duterte’s “subservience and surrender to China is detestable (and) unacceptable.”

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“He does not speak for me and many other Filipinos who see in this defeatist attitude cowardice toward the aggressor,” Pangilinan said in a Viber message.

“[Duterte] should learn from Vietnam and Indonesia, which stand up to China as any nation ought to do so,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto insisted that the Philippines should “strongly assert our legal rights over West Philippine Sea and to pursue the same diplomatically.”

No need for war

Reacting to the President’s statement on the maritime dispute with China, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday night said that the Philippines does not have to go to war to assert its sovereign rights.

Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia assert their maritime rights against China’s claims “but do not go to war against China, and neither does China go to war against these countries,” Carpio said.

“There are lawful and peaceful means to asserting sovereign rights. War is not even an option,” he said.

The United Nations charter outlaws wars to settle territorial or maritime disputes while the Philippine Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy. This means that the Philippines “cannot go to war to enforce the arbitral ruling,” Carpio said.

He also said it was wrong for Duterte to say in his speech that China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea “because factually China is not in possession.”

“Naval powers like the US, UK, France, Australia, Japan and Canada regularly sail in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, proving that China is not in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

‘Not too late’

Carpio was part of the government’s legal team that argued the Philippine position against China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the retired magistrate said the Philippines had not yet realized the gains from its arbitral victory.

“However, it is not too late,” he said. “We must not be willing victims by acquiescing to China’s blatant violation of the rule of law. We must not be silent as silence encourages further aggression into our lands and seas.”

“As we ordinary citizens continue to protect what is ours, we humbly beseech our government to help us in this endeavor. At the very least, our government should not stand in the way of Filipinos legitimately protecting their own lands and waters,” Carpio said.

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TAGS: maritime dispute, PH-China relations, Rodrigo Duterte, Senate, SONA 2020, South China sea, West Philippine Sea
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