July 22, 2018, 11:35 pm
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‘Province of China’ banners cause social media uproar

ON the second anniversary of Manila’s victory over Beijing in the landmark South China Sea arbitration case, banners bearing the words “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” sprang up on bridges, overpasses and major thoroughfares all over the metropolis, sparking anger on social media platforms. 

The terms “province of China” and “South China Sea” trended prominently on Twitter, while news reports of the sudden appearance of the red tarpaulin banners along key thoroughfares generated thousands of shares and comments on Facebook.

No group claimed responsibility for the banners, which feature English and Chinese characters and a Chinese flag flanked by dragons. 

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it has removed six banners from six bridges and overpasses, which it said distracted motorists. 

In a press briefing, MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia said the agency is checking out who posted the banners on Quezon Avenue, C5-Kalayaan Avenue, and along the Commonwealth-Philcoa area in Quezon City, Airport Road and Taft Avenue in Pasay, and España-Welcome Rotunda in Manila. 

Garcia said the banners were strategically placed in areas where there were no CCTVs. 

MMDA spokeswoman Celine Pialago said the agency’s cameras are fixed and there were no traffic enforcers on roads from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

Pialago said the MMDA only allows people or groups to post banners in public places once they obtain permits from the agency. Local government units also have ordinances against people or groups posting banners without permits. 

Garcia said the MMDA started getting reports about the banner as early as 6 a.m. 

Emojis denoting anger or surprise dominated comments on social media next to pictures of the banner. 

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay posted a photo of the banner on his Twitter account, with the caption: “Not funny. On this day, July 12, we commemorate our victory in Philippines vs China. On Metro Manila footbridges, these tarps suddenly appear. MMDA, LGUs and citizens should immediately take these down.” 

Others chided the government for not challenging China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. “This is too much. The country was sold off,” one Facebook user said.

Private citizens Ronald Gustillo and Ryan Pontejos likewise posted photos of the banners on their Facebook accounts.

“This was taken early this morning sa lugar ng Sun Valley, NAIA, Pasay City near Terminal 1 and 2. History major ako nung kumuha ako ng teaching units nung nag aaral pa ako. Sa pagkakaalam ko wala ito sa pinag-aralan ko or HINDI LANG AKO UPDATED SA PHILIPPINE HISTORY?! Pero nakaka Huwaw! Ang aga naman bumungad saken nito. Kelan pa naging PROVINCE OF CHINA ANG PILIPINAS?! Nabago na?! Advance kayo mag isip?! tsk..tsk..tsk,” Pontejos said in his post.

Gustillo said: “Anong kalokohan ito? Province of China pa eh no.” 

Some users accused the political opposition of making the signs to discredit the government’s warming ties with China.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque called the banners “absurd” and said it was likely the government’s political enemies who were behind them.

“It’s absurd and I’m sure it’s the enemies of our government behind it. So to them: try again, you need a better gimmick than that,” Roque said.

Roque said there is no truth to the content of the banner as the Philippines has not given up any of its territory and has in fact “continue(d) to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights.”

“But we are decided to move on issues which are non-controversial because we know that the final resolution particularly on the issues of sovereignty on the disputed islands will take many, many, many years to resolve since this was not a subject of the arbitral ruling that we won two years ago,” Roque said in explaining the current relationship of the Philippines with China.

Sen. Francis Escudero described the tarpaulins as “witty and annoying” as he shared Roque’s belief the banners were put up by critics of the administration and that these were meant to taunt President Duterte’s preference to be an ally of China. 

“Witty at nakakaasar na propaganda pero tiyak ko, hindi galing sa administrasyon dahil parang binaon nila ang sarili nila (It is a witty and annoying propaganda but I’m sure it did not come from the administration because doing so would only bury the administration deeper),” he said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum.

“Bahagi ito ng paninira laban sa administrasyon na kaya na ni Harry Roque na depensahan (It’s part of a demolition job against the administration that Harry Roque could handle),” he added.

The Philippines and China have overlapping claims over parts of the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. Under President Duterte, Manila has taken a conciliatory approach and wants China’s loans, trade and investments.

The President likewise frequently praises Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and in February, caused a stir when he jokingly offered the Philippines to Beijing as a province of China.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking its fishermen and building artificial islands in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Duterte administration has set aside the ruling and pursued bilateral relationship with China. The government has not called out Beijing over the deployment of missile systems in the Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef, which falls within the country’s exclusive economic zone. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, JP Lopez, Ashzel Hachero and Reuters 
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