West Philippine Sea

Del Rosario rejects debate: Duterte gov’t must listen to Filipinos

Sofia Tomacruz

FORMER PH TOP DIPLOMAT. File photo of former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario.

File photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario says the proposed debate 'will manifest to the world that we are not united and we do not know what we are doing'

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario turned down Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s invitation to debate on the West Philippine Sea and urged the Duterte government to instead listen to the Filipino people’s strong stand on the issue. 

Del Rosario, who has been the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent televised rants, said a public debate was “not the best way” to spend time since it would merely put on display the divisiveness of the issue among parties in the Philippines. 

“It (debate) merely will manifest to the world that we are not united and we do not know what we are doing,” Del Rosario said in an official statement Tuesday, May 11. 

The debate was supposed to be between Malacañang, and Del Rosario, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, and Vice President Leni Robredo on the other team.

Roque, still raring to debate with Carpio on the issue, had egged on Robredo and Del Rosario to join in as the two officials had been vocal with their criticism of the Duterte government’s China policy.

Roque had promoted the debate after Duterte dared Carpio to go against him in one, only to back out and designate the Palace spokesperson to represent him instead.

Del Rosario said while he acknowledged Malacañang’s invitation to debate, “Secretary Roque’s own department is undergoing serious credibility challenges.” The former foreign secretary said the government must listen to the public instead. 

My humble suggestion is for this government to listen to what the Filipinos are saying,” Del Rosario said. 

Public surveys have consistently shown in past years that a big majority of Filipinos want the government to assert the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea, while most Filipinos also do not share Duterte’s trust in China. 

On Monday night, May 10, Duterte balked at any Filipino who believed his 2016 campaign promise to ride a jet ski to the West Philippine Sea, calling it a “pure campaign joke” people would be “stupid” to take literally. 

In a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, meanwhile, Roque had falsely claimed Julian Felipe Reef was outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but is still being claimed by the Philippines through a Marcos-era presidential decree.

Julian Felipe Reef is within the 200-nautical mile EEZ of the Philippines, located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, and  within the within 12 nautical mile territorial sea of Grierson Reef, which is occupied by Vietnam but claimed by the Philippines as part of the Kalayaan Island Group. 

Since April 5, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been filing daily diplomatic protests against China over the illegal presence of its ships in Julian Felipe Reef, despite repeated demands from defense officials and diplomats to withdraw. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.