VP: Gov’t remarks on sea conflict ‘irresponsible’
Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday denounced “irresponsible comments” from President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials about the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea a day after former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales warned that the country “cannot survive treason from within.”
Speaking on her radio program, Robredo said the response of administration officials to China’s incursion into the West Philippine Sea — waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the heavily disputed South China Sea — was “very saddening.”
A war he can’t win
She criticized the President’s remarks that his administration could not do anything about China’s incursion into Philippine waters.
The President has frequently said he cannot assert the Philippine claim in the West Philippine Sea because he does not want to go to a war with China that he cannot win.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Saturday that the West Philippine Sea belonged to the Philippines, but the Philippine military was too weak to defend it against China.
“What will we face them with? We don’t even have a capital ship that is a destroyer,” Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of a Veterans Federation of the Philippines executive board meeting.
“This is very sad, because they are showing to our faces that the things we have the right to are being taken over by others,” Robredo said.
“If the President himself says we cannot do anything, it’s as if we’re giving up the fight,” she added.
The Vice President cited the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and recognized the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea.
But the President refused to assert that ruling, preferring to improve relations with China to obtain Chinese aid, loans and investments.
‘Treason from within’
Morales, who retired as Ombudsman in July, referred to the territorial dispute in a speech at a forum in Taguig City on Saturday, warning about forces from within that were working against the Philippines’ interests.
“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within,” Morales said, quoting the Roman statesman Cicero.
“An enemy at the gates is less formidable … but the traitor moves among those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself,” she said.
When asked later for elaboration, however, Morales refused, saying, “[I]t is self-explanatory.”
Robredo’s and Morales’ remarks came after a television network reported that Chinese coast guards blocked its news crew from filming at Panatag Shoal earlier this month.
Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag Shoal is located 230 km off the coast of Zambales, well within the Philippines’ EEZ, but China seized it in 2012 after a two-month standoff with the Philippines.
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