Leni Robredo

‘Sana all pumalag’: Robredo hits China in rare video rebuttal

Mara Cepeda
‘Sana all pumalag’: Robredo hits China in rare video rebuttal

'SANA ALL.' Vice President Leni Robredo fires back at China and also criticizes President Rodrigo Duterte's defeatist stance in defending the West Philippine Sea.

Leni Robredo's Twitter account

Vice President Leni Robredo slams Beijing for belittling the Hague ruling but does not give a free pass to President Rodrigo Duterte's defeatist stance on the West Philippine Sea

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo doubled down on lambasting China for its unsanctioned incursions in the West Philippine Sea – a part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines but which Beijing is falsely claiming as its own.

In a rare video statement directed at the regional power on Tuesday, July 13, a frustrated Robredo not only criticized China for belittling Manila’s historical arbitral victory against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea; she also threw shade at President Rodrigo Duterte himself for failing to defend national sovereignty.

This comes after China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called as “illegal, null, and void” an arbitral tribunal’s 2016 ruling striking down Beijing’s expansive claim over the South China Sea on Monday, July 12 – the 5th anniversary of the landmark decision on international maritime law.

In the video, Robredo said she was not surprised China still holds this view, since governments are expected to insist on their nation’s interests “even if sometimes they have to bend logic in the process.”

The Philippine opposition leader could only wish the notoriously foul-mouthed Duterte would be just as tough in defending his own people against China’s encroachment in Philippine waters.

“Ako, while the tone is unnecessary and unfortunate, hindi na ‘ko nagulat. The message is actually expected, kasi ganun naman, ‘di ba? After all, governments are expected to assert their nation’s interests, even if sometimes nga they have to bend logic in the process,” Robredo opened her video statement reacting to Zhao.

(For me, while the tone is unnecessary and unfortunate, I wasn’t surprised. The message is actually expected, because that’s how things are, right? After all, governments are expected to assert their nation’s interests, even if sometimes they have to bend logic in the process.)

“Pero ‘yung sa akin kasi personal: Sana all! Sana ‘yung gobyerno din natin willing din na magpakita ng konting tapang regarding the issue. Kasi talagang habang umaatras tayo, lalo lang tayong didiinan. ‘Pag interes na ng sariling bansa natin, sana pumalag tayo,” added the Vice President. 

(But for me, this is a personal issue: I wish our government would do the same thing for us. I wish our government is also willing to show bravery regarding this issue. Because the more that we back down, the more that we will be bullied. When it comes to the interests of our own country, we should fight back.)

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Robredo laments Duterte admin’s ‘cowardice’ in defending West PH Sea vs China

Robredo’s short but spontaneous video rebuttal against Beijing and Duterte is a departure from her usual prepared statements criticizing Chinese militarization of the West Philippine Sea. It also comes at a crucial point in Philippine politics, as politicians and strategists begin placing their bets on Duterte’s potential successor in the high-stakes 2022 national elections.

Next year’s polls could see Robredo, the most viable opposition standard-bearer according to pre-election surveys, pitted against the President’s own daughter, poll frontrunner and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Robredo’s criticisms against the Duterte administration also come amid reports that lingering Chinese ships off the Union Banks in the West Philippine Sea are dumping human waste and sewage into the resource-rich waters of the Spratly Island Group.

Filipino fisherfolk also appealed to Duterte to act on China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea, but Malacañag claimed they were lying about Beijing’s aggression.

Robredo has long been criticizing Duterte for his defeatist position on China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea. The Vice President once said China’s presence in Philippine waters is the “most serious external threat” since World War II.

Duterte himself has downplayed the arbitral victory numerous times in exchange for loans and grants from Beijing. He claims that insisting on the Philippines’ legal triumph would only spark war with China. 

But critics have said the Philippines can forge stronger alliances with other nations to put more pressure on China to leave the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.