Senator Tolentino urges Palace to recall envoy to China
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang should temporarily recall Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz to express the country’s strong denunciation of another water cannon attack by a Chinese vessel, Sen. Francis Tolentino said on Sunday.
“This is [to show] a high level of condemnation because our embassy in Beijing will have no [chief of mission],” Tolentino, vice chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said in an interview with radio dzBB’s “Bantay Balita sa Kongreso.”
“This does not mean that we are cutting our diplomatic relations (with China),” the senator clarified.
“This is us telling them that ‘you have really gone overboard and [it’s time for you] to take notice because we have already filed hundreds of diplomatic protests,’” he added.
The lawmaker said the Philippine Embassy in Beijing should remain open to process the visa applications of Chinese tourists planning to visit Manila and to provide services to Filipinos staying in China.
Tolentino made the suggestion two days after a China Coast Guard vessel ship fired a water cannon at ML Kalayaan, a private boat that the Armed Forces of the Philippines contracted to bring fresh supplies to its personnel manning the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II-era warship that has served as a military outpost in the West Philippine Sea.
The water cannonade was the second such attack by China after a similar incident last August.
Tolentino said the latest incident again proved that Beijing would not comply with international law and respect Manila’s sovereignty.
The Chinese ships, he noted, had been carrying out more dangerous and aggressive actions to block the AFP’s rotational and reprovisioning missions.
Aside from recalling FlorCruz, Tolentino said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should also continue drumming up global support to pressure China into respecting the Philippines’ 2016 landmark victory in the international arbitral court.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague said on July 12, 2016, that there was no evidence that China had exercised exclusive control historically over areas in the West Philippine Sea that it was claiming.
China rejected the decision as illegal and without any binding effect, while other countries, including the United States, Australia, and Japan, supported the Philippines and called on China to respect the tribunal’s decision.
“It’s up to President [Marcos] and the DFA to decide on this,” Tolentino said. “Our ambassador may be recalled from Beijing to also allow him to report to the DFA and the President as well.”
The senator, who has a master’s degree in public international law, rejected proposals for the AFP to just airlift supplies to Ayungin to avoid any confrontation with China.
“That area belongs to us. Why should we yield (to China)?” he said.
According to him, a group of private individuals, among them church officials and prominent business leaders, was planning to launch a mission to deliver Christmas gifts to soldiers stationed in BRP Sierra Madre.
‘National security concern’
“If you remember, I said last August that ‘China, don’t spoil our Christmas.’ This is what I was talking about,” he noted.
“We don’t have to ask permission from China to allow us to bring Christmas presents to our soldiers because we have jurisdiction over Ayungin (Shoal).”
Tolentino also warned that some Chinese nationals might have registered as Filipino voters after they allegedly secured valid Philippine passports and other government-issued documents.
Worse, he said, the foreigners could have likewise obtained permits to buy, own, and carry firearms in public.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros had earlier cautioned that Chinese military spies could be among the supposed workers of Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) who were given Philippine passports by presenting authentic documents that they had fraudulently acquired.
She made the claim after a raid on a Pogo hub in Pasay City on Oct. 27 resulted in the confiscation of various genuine identification cards and documents that are issued only to Filipino citizens.
Tolentino, who chairs the Senate blue ribbon committee, said he would pursue an investigation after the DFA disclosed that the Chinese nationals had submitted authentic birth certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in applying for the passports.
“This is alarming because it’s not just a national security concern. It also means that they are also benefiting from the resources that should only go to our citizens,” he said.
‘Assuming Filipino identities’
Other senators agreed that the alleged issuance of Philippine passports to Chinese nationals was a national security issue.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa initially raised this matter during the Senate’s deliberation on the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for 2024.
During the plenary debates, he asked Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, sponsor of the DFA budget, if she was aware of the alleged scheme involving foreign nationals who have Philippine passports.
Legarda confirmed that the DFA was aware of the scheme and that it was “actively engaging [with] law enforcement agencies pursuing the proper criminal charges against foreign nationals who were able to obtain Philippine passports.”
“The DFA notes that these foreign nationals post themselves as Filipinos by assuming Filipino identities through the presentation of authentic and genuine (PSA) birth certificates with valid government-issued identification cards (IDs) that are accepted for passport application,” said Legarda, reading the DFA’s statement.
“The DFA further notes that some of these foreign nationals post themselves as persons with disability and presented authentic persons with disability IDs. In doing so, these individuals are escorted by their immediate family members and relatives during the passport application form,” she added.
The DFA said it was aiming to sign a memorandum of agreement with the PSA for the “integration of systems” that would allow front-liners to quickly validate the authenticity of PSA documents.
Legarda said she was “not happy” with the DFA’s statement, adding that a thorough investigation was needed, not only among the officials of the DFA but also other agencies involved.
“I thank your Honor for bringing it to our attention because it is not just an issue of passport. It is a national security issue,” she said.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said there was a need to “get to the bottom” of the scheme.