Palace hit for ‘mendicancy,’ Beijing for ‘bullying’
Labor groups and a lawmaker on Wednesday lambasted the Duterte administration for “kowtowing” to China after its ambassador “bullied” the government into not taking action against Chinese illegally working in the Philippines.
The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) said Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s threat of tit-for-tat deportations of Filipinos working in China was not only a display of his government’s “arrogance” but also showed how the Asian economic powerhouse regarded the Philippines.
“The ambassador is acting like a bully in issuing threats to harm Filipinos in China. [We] believe that this latest example of bullying by the Chinese ambassador is the result of President Duterte’s mendicancy toward China,” Sentro secretary general Josua Mata told reporters.
Not the same situation
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin bristled at Zhao’s “threat” to deport Filipinos from China if Philippine authorities summarily kicked out undocumented Chinese workers.
The situation of Filipinos in China is not the same as that of the Chinese illegally working in the Philippines, Villarin said in a statement, noting that the Filipinos in China are legitimately working there.
“The Philippines has been sending its skilled workers all around the world and has done so following all the legal processes of foreign employment,” Villarin said.
“Chinese nationals illegally entering and working in the Philippines have no rights for their continued stay, having violated Philippine laws,” he said.
Villarin said Zhao’s words about mutual deportations, as quoted by President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo, smacked of “political blackmail and bullying that should merit a diplomatic protest from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).”
On Tuesday, Panelo told reporters that he had dinner with Zhao recently and that the Chinese diplomat had told him China would “do the same” if the Philippines deported Chinese workers without due process.
“That is what the Chinese ambassador told me during the dinner, that if this government will just deport Chinese not in accordance with the law, then we will also do the same. That’s tit for tat,” Panelo said.
Kowtowing to Beijing
Villarin expressed disappointment with Panelo’s handling of the matter.
“Rather than standing up for our sovereign rights, Panelo seems to stand down when confronted by China’s ambassador. It is downright pathetic for Malacañang to kowtow to Beijing’s wishes all the time,” the party-list lawmaker said.
“Subservience has never been that clearly defined by such acts of Malacañang,” he added.
The supposed exchange between Panelo and Zhao followed the President’s controversial suggestion that the government allow Chinese illegally working in the Philippines to stay and keep their jobs to avoid a diplomatic controversy that might lead to the expulsion of Filipinos from China.
Not that many
Speaking at a PDP-Laban campaign rally in Biñan City, Laguna province, on Sunday, the President said: “The Chinese here, just let them work here. Just let them. Why? We have 300,000 Filipinos in China.”
There aren’t that many Filipinos in China, but the President could have added the Filipino population in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, or had in mind the number of Filipino workers China planned to hire under an agreement signed in Boao last year.
Most recent data available from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed that when the Duterte administration took office in 2016, only 9,166 Filipinos were working in China.
That figure was 39.6 percent higher than 6,500 in 2015, when the Philippines was challenging China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, but the President set the ruling aside in exchange for aid, loans and investments from China.
China was only too happy to oblige the President, and pledged $24 billion to help finance his ambitious infrastructure program.
But it seized seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the South China Sea, and developed them into artificial islands that it later built into military outposts.
Indebted to China, the Duterte administration refused to even protest the Chinese militarization of the region and, during the term of former Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano as foreign secretary, even defended China’s interests against criticism in the Philippines.
Position of weakness
The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) on Wednesday said the administration had no one to blame but itself for how China was now treating it, as it was the President himself who “started from a position of weakness.”
“[Zhao] is reacting to the encouraging signals he got from President Duterte himself,” FFW vice president Julius Cainglet said.
“The problem is that the President exposed his vulnerability by virtually promising he won’t touch the undocumented Chinese migrant workers here,” he added.
For Partido Manggagawa chair Rene Magtubo, a diplomatic protest should be filed by the DFA against Zhao, whose action, he said, bordered on “interference” in the affairs of a sovereign country that was only trying to implement its employment laws.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.