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Make protest vs China public, Gatchalian urges Locsin

05:34 AM April 04, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. should publicly disclose the contents of the government’s diplomatic protests against China in connection with the presence of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea, a senator said on Wednesday.

“He made a statement already that he will issue notes verbale and I trust [Foreign] Secretary [Teodoro] Locsin [Jr.] that he will do what he said,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told reporters.

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“In the spirit of transparency, it will be better if the (Department of Foreign Affairs) will upload the notes verbale in their website so that we can see the actions taken by the government,” he added.

Maritime militia

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The military’s Western Command (Wescom) has reported that at least 275 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be part of China’s maritime militia, had been sailing in an out of the vicinity of Pag-asa, the largest of nine islands and shoals occupied by Filipino troops in the Kalayaan Island Group since January.

Wescom spokesperson Capt. Jason Ramon said in a radio interview on Wednesday that despite their large presence, the Chinese had not harassed Filipino fishermen off Pag-asa and the sandbars between the island and Zamora (Subi) Reef, which has been transformed into an island military outpost by China.

‘Period of inactivity’

Ramon said the crew of the Chinese vessels were observed to be in an “unusual period of inactivity.”

“They are staying there and often do not go fishing,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night again ruled out any armed conflict with China over the maritime dispute, saying Beijing only “wants to be friends with us” and even gave weapons to his government without asking for “any territory” in return.

“If I go to war, it will pulverize my Navy in a matter of minutes. And if I go to war with China, their missile will reach Manila in seven minutes,” the President said during a campaign rally in Malabon City.

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“Why should I pick a fight? Why should I allow my policemen and soldiers to be decimated? Those are lives … We have no capacity to deal with that,” he added.

Soft stance

The President has been criticized for his soft stance on China’s maritime territorial expansion and for setting aside an international arbitral court’s ruling which nullified Beijing’s expansive claim over the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines.

Malacañang earlier said the President might raise these issues when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping this month at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the administration should not publicize its defeatist stance regarding the country’s maritime dispute as it would only embolden Beijing to further “bully” the Philippines.

“If there’s a bully in your neighborhood and you project your weakness, then you will only get bullied more. But if you project yourself as quiet and let him guess your capability, then at least you could put up a fight,” Lacson said. —With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade and Julie M. Aurelio

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