Senators to Duterte: Why tolerate China's war threat?

MANILA, Philippines – Minority Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV questioned anew President Rodrigo Duterte's seemingly "inconsistent" foreign policy, following China's threat of war over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute.

Aquino, who said the threat is "troublesome," urged the Duterte administration to explain its confusing "independent" foreign policy.

"Nakakabahala talaga 'yun na isang head of state nagsabi na baka gyerahin tayo, that's very troublesome," the senator told reporters in an interview on Monday, May 22.

(It is really worrisome that a head of state would threaten us with war, that's very troublesome.)

Aquino pointed out it was contradictory that the Philippine government is rejecting aid from the European Union (EU) for its supposed interference, while letting China make threats.

"'Yung threat of war, gusto natin linawin kasi 'di po 'yun pangkaraniwan. We need to be consistent with our foreign policy. Meron tayong hini-hindian kasi ayaw natin 'yung hirit sa atin regarding human rights pero 'yung iba tatanggapin natin, may threat ng gyera. Parang 'di talaga siya consistent," the senator said.

(We want to clarify the threat of war because that is out of the ordinary. We need to be consistent with our foreign policy. We are refusing aid because of criticism on the human rights situation here, yet we accept war threats from other countries. That really seems inconsistent.)

Last September, Aquino filed a Senate resolution calling for a Senate probe into Duterte's "conflicting" foreign policy, but the inquiry has yet to be scheduled. At the time, then-senator Alan Peter Cayetano – a staunch Duterte ally and now Foreign Secretary – was committee chairman.

Aquino reiterated there is a need to clarify the Philippine government's foreign policy, as it affects jobs, sovereignty, and national security.

It was under former president Benigno Aquino III, the senator's cousin, when the Philippines lodged a protest against China over their maritime dispute. Duterte, in contrast, has taken a friendly stance toward the Asian giant.

Bring issue to UN, file diplomatic protest

Senator Panfilo Lacson and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also expressed concern over China's threat, echoing Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio's call to bring the issue before the United Nations.

"To threaten us with war, especially 'yung disparity ng military might ng power ng China compared to ours, medyo malaking threat 'yan," Lacson said. (To threaten us with war, especially considering the disparity between China's military might and ours, that's a major threat.)

The Philippines, he also said, has basis to pursue another case against China.

"Justice Carpio is right. Dapat i-bring up ito sa attention ng UN (We should bring this to the UN's attention). After all, China is a member. Member pa nga siya ng Security Council, 'di ba? So dapat i-pursue natin dahil 'di maganda 'yan (China is even a member of the Security Council, right? So we should pursue a case because making threats isn't good)," Lacson said.

"Friendship should be based on goodwill. Pero where can you find goodwill kung may threat of going to war in case na ang claims i-pursue natin (But where can you find goodwill if there is a threat of going to war if we pursue our claims), to explore based on what we believe is ours?" he added.

Drilon, meanwhile, said the Duterte administration should not take Chinese President Xi Jinping's words lightly.

"The Chinese President's threat is a gross violation of the United Nations' Charter. Article 2, Section 4 of the UN Charter states that 'all members shall refrain in their institutional relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations,'" said Drilon.

"We should stand up to China. We should not allow our country to be bullied and threatened," he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan also supports Aquino's call for a Senate inquiry, as he earlier urged Cayetano to file a diplomatic protest against China for its actions.

"The hearing should tackle not only this issue, but also the details of the $24-billion loans and investments recently sealed with China, as well as the Duterte administration's decision to reject aid from the EU," Pangilinan had said.

But Cayetano, in an interview on Monday, downplayed the incident, saying there is mutual respect between Duterte and Xi. He also said the context of the two leaders' conversation was "conflict resolution."

Duterte earlier disclosed that Xi warned there would be war if the Philippines pushes through with its plan to drill oil in the Reed Bank off the West Philippine Sea.

The Reed Bank, also known as Recto Bank, is internationally recognized as part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but China claims it as part of its territory.

Meanwhile, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippine government should prepare a dual response: file a protest with the United Nations and revisit the joint patrolling of the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with the US and other partners.

"As an integral part of the Philippine response, it behooves the Philippine government to pursue a defensive posture by revisiting the joint patrol strategy of the West Philippine Sea which the US was prepared to undertake at the request of our previous government," Del Rosario said in a statement.

"The joint patrol of our EEZ with the US and possibly other partners would be a combined strategic and tactical move for the Philippine government in defending our national interest and territorial integrity," he added. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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