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Duterte: Opposition hot on sea row but not helping vs virus

/ 05:34 AM May 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would never back down in the maritime dispute with China but that the weightier problem he was concerned with now was the COVID-19 pandemic, and made baseless accusations that the opposition was not helping resolve the health crisis.

The pandemic is more urgent than the West Philippine Sea issue, he said in an address to the public.

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“Let’s discuss COVID-19 first because COVID-19 can cause deaths, but the West Philippine Sea does not,” he said. Duterte recorded his public address on Thursday. Parts of his message were aired on the same day and others on Friday.

The President said the opposition was making a big deal of the country’s dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea while allegedly not helping respond to the pandemic.

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He said the people should examine the moves of the opposition.

“Instead of saying how we could have more funds for assistance or how to get more beds because [cases] might go out of control, spreading a wildfire, they don’t do that,” he said.

“They look for issue about the sea. So, you people of the Republic of the Philippines, study this carefully. These are the people who do nothing but complain,” Duterte added.

In a cryptic message, he told Filipinos they should not forget actions taken by his critics “because the day will come when you also will make a judgment” on them. He did not say when that day might be.

But the opposition, most prominently Vice President Leni Robredo, its titular head, did help Filipinos deal with the pandemic.

Robredo was among the first to mobilize private groups and local designers to produce personal protective equipment in the early days of the pandemic when there was a severe shortage.

‘Not really’ backing down

She also organized free shuttle services and dormitories for health workers, and raised funds for relief supplies for the poor who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

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Recently, she launched free mobile coronavirus tests and medical teleconsultation services.

Addressing criticisms that he was soft on China after admitting that his promised jet ski ride to the Spratly Islands to affirm the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea was a joke, Duterte said his administration would continue to assert the country’s maritime claims.

“I will tell China now, as I’ve said before, to repeat: I am not ready to withdraw. I do not want a quarrel. I do not want trouble. I respect your position, and you respect mine. But we will not go to war,” Duterte said in a public address aired on Friday.

“I will really not back down. You could kill me, but I will remain. This is where our friendship will end,” he said.

Duterte derided calls to seek help from the United Nations to enforce the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that had invalidated China’s sweeping claims to nearly the entire South China Sea. “Please, spare me. I will turn into a comedy there,” he said.

Duterte said he believed in the 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal “in its entirety,” but the problem was implementing it, repeating his earlier statement that it was “really a piece of paper.”

He again reminded Filipinos of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warning that there would be “trouble” should the Philippines drill for oil in the West Philippine Sea.

“So, what more language do I need to hear?” Duterte said. “Trouble is war.”

But he said he was putting China on notice that Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea “will not move an inch backward.”

One of the sharpest critics of Mr. Duterte’s policies toward China and the maritime dispute, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, on Friday initiated an online petition demanding that the President take back his statements that supposedly practically surrendered the West Philippine Sea to China.

Carpio signature drive

As of 5 p.m., the petition titled “President Duterte should RETRACT his damaging statements on the WPS” had garnered nearly 700 signatures.

Duterte had claimed that China was “in possession of the West Philippine Sea” and that the Philippines’ arbitral victory was “just a scrap of paper that deserves to be thrown to the wastebasket.”

The President should also withdraw his pronouncement that “Chinese fishermen can fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.”

“These statements are contrary to the Constitution, waive our sovereign rights under the arbitral award and even concede to China possession of the West Philippine Sea when, in fact, China is not physically and legally in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” the petition read.

—WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS

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TAGS: COVID-19, opposition, Politics, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea
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