Lacson, Del Rosario laud Duterte stance on Pag-asa
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Saturday thanked President Duterte for telling China to stay away from Pag-asa Island while former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario urged Filipinos to rally behind the nation’s leader for his “admirable” statement.
On his Twitter page, Lacson posted a link to an Inquirer report on Mr. Duterte’s statement telling China to “lay off” Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea.
“Let us be friends, but do not touch Pag-asa Island, otherwise, things would be different,” the President, addressing Beijing, said at a campaign rally in Palawan on Thursday night.
Lacson on Saturday welcomed that statement, tweeting: “Thank you for this Mr. President!”
A day earlier, he reminded the President that Pag-asa was part of Philippine territory. He also cited lyrics from the national anthem that said Filipinos would be happy to die defending the country.
At the Puerto Princesa campaign rally, the President told China that Filipino soldiers were stationed on Pag-asa, the biggest of nine islands and shoals occupied by the Philippines in the Kalayaan Island Group and part of the Spratlys chain in the South China Sea.
“If you lay a finger on them, it’s another story. I will tell my soldiers, prepare for a suicide mission,” the President said. “I’m trying to tell China, Pag-asa is ours.”
The President’s remarks followed a report by the military’s Western Command that at least 275 Chinese vessels believed to be part of China’s maritime militia had been monitored around Pag-asa since January.
Hoping for China reply
In a text message to the Inquirer, Lacson said the President’s “strongly worded statement” to China was “commendable.” He hoped China would respond by trying to ease the President’s concerns.
“Considering that this is the first time that the President has spoken in such serious and strong terms, I would like to think that China will at least mollify PRRD by backtracking on their aggressive posture in Pag-asa,” Lacson said.
The extent of China’s actions would depend on how valuable Pag-asa Island is to them, he said.
“Having said that, a Chinese invasion of Barangay Pag-asa should be regarded by us and our allies, especially the US with whom we have a mutual defense treaty, as such since there is no other way to look at it,” he added.
Rare show of support
In a rare expression of support for the President, Del Rosario on Saturday said he fully backed the President’s stand.
“On his recently stated position regarding the Philippine defense of Pag-asa, our President is manifesting his own brand of leadership, which in this instance is both appropriate and admirable,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“Let us all be one in standing behind him,” he added.
Del Rosario has been critical of the President’s soft stance toward China and for setting aside an international arbitral court ruling in favor of the Philippines that nullified China’s expansive claims to virtually the entire South China Sea in 2016.
Last month, he and retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, a former Supreme Court associate justice, filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials for alleged crimes against humanity, saying hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were being “persecuted and injured” by China’s aggressive island-building and occupation of islands in the South China Sea.
Sen. Richard Gordon on Friday said he was glad that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing against the large presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa.
“China said it is our friend, but a friend does not send hundreds of Army, hundreds of Navy, does not send hundreds of vessels to harass fishermen in our territory,” he said at the commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan and Philippine Veterans Week at Fort Bonifacio.
The DFA had said the presence of the Chinese vessels was “illegal,” stressing that “such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction as defined under international law.” —Reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Jerome Aning
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.