SENATE minority leader Franklin Drilon yesterday slammed the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines for making “insulting” remarks against Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana over the West Philippine Sea issue.
“This is the first time that I heard an ambassador in our country insulting our Secretary of National Defense. That’s why for me, I won’t agree to what they are saying that China is our friend, (that) we might offend them,” Drilon told dzRH.
Drilon was referring to the statement made by the Chinese Embassy in Manila describing Lorenzana’s statement on the Chinese incursions at the Julian Felipe Reef as “unprofessional remarks.”
The Chinese Embassy issued the statement after Lorenzana called on the Chinese vessels to immediately leave the Julian Felipe Reef.
President Duterte, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the presence of Chinese militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef will not be a hindrance to the two country’s ongoing joint efforts to address the coronavirus disease, like the post-pandemic economic and vaccination programs.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the “official statement of the President is we will continue to resolve the issue on Julian Felipe through diplomatic channels and peaceful means.”
He added that Duterte said that whatever differences the Philippines and China may have on some issues, like the maritime territorial disputes, this should not define the current bilateral relations and friendly ties between the two counties.
“It (Julian Felipe issue) will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation in the pandemic response including vaccine cooperation and post-pandemic economic recovery,” Roque said, quoting the President.
Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte) urged Lorenzana to “walk the talk” and start sending naval ships to the Juan Felipe Reef amid the continued stay of Chinese vessels in the area, saying it’s time to protect our fishermen, our marine resources and our territorial integrity.”
“We have filed more than enough diplomatic protests to no avail,” he said in a statement. “It is now time for more concrete actions. In other words, we should walk the talk.”
While doing this, Barbers said the Philippine government should immediately summon the Chinese ambassador “and demand an explanation,” especially since the country has won the arbitral ruling against China.
He said Filipinos have nothing to fear because “our allies have expressed support but if we ourselves do not do anything when we are the aggrieved party, our allies cannot do anything to further our interest.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs also took exception to the Chinese Embassy’s statement, saying “the Embassy statement contained blatant falsehoods.”
Drilon said China clearly committed maritime bullying when it allowed its vessels to moor at Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and lies in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“This only shows that our policy is not right, that we cannot cause displeasure to China. Is it because China is giving us (COVID-19) vaccines that we cannot tell them that they are wrong? It’s good that the DFA has filed two diplomatic protests,” he said.
Drilon also said the government’s friendly treatment with China has led to uncontrolled COVID-19 infections in the country.
He recalled that last year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III refused to recommend the banning of flights from China despite the threat of COVID-19 infections Chinese tourists will bring to the country
“What did Sec. Duque say? Let us not ban China (flights) because they might be offended.
Look at Vietnam, they banned the entry of Chinese tourists that’s why they were able to control the pandemic…The same was done by Taiwan,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senate national defense committee chair, said diplomatic protests against China may not be helpful at this time since “China continues to ignore the same.
“That said, perhaps China would not be so dismissive if we and our allies, both in the Asia-Pacific and the west, show we can band together to maintain a balance of power in the region, including the West Philippine Sea,” Lacson said.
National Task Force Against the coronavirus disease (NTF-COVID 19) chief implementer and vaccine cza Carlito Galvez Jr. said the maritime territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing is separate and a different issue from the anti-COVID-19 drive.
The Philippines is buying 25 million doses of vaccine from Chinese firm Sinovac, which is on top of the one million doses of Sinovac vaccine donated by the Chinese government to the country. – With Jocelyn Montemayor