Sui Generis

Imee Marcos tilts towards China

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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Imee Marcos tilts towards China
The senator is a 'personal friend and ally'

When opposition Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III was asked recently if he had any other senator in mind to recruit to the minority, he replied in jest, “The next logical person to recruit to the minority is blood related to the President.” He was obviously referring to Senator Imee Marcos, the sister of the President.

Some of Imee’s positions have diverged from the President but there is one issue wherein their differences stand out: China.

Let’s look back. Last year, as President Marcos had barely warmed his seat, an important official from China came to visit: Liu Janchao, minister of the international department of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee. For some reason, he was unable to see the President.

Instead, it was the President’s sister who met with Liu. Imee gave Liu and his delegation a tour of the Marcoses’ ancestral home in the city of San Juan in Metro Manila, which has since been turned into a museum.

In a video, Imee is seen seated with the ranking Chinese official and his team on a long table, exchanging pleasantries. She told her guests, “We consider Chinese officialdom and the Party our personal friends and allies.”

This was significant, coming from the sister of the President, who has embraced the alliance with the US. She also heads the Senate foreign relations committee.

Moreover, Liu was an important official who led the Chinese Communist Party’s international department which is “one of the most authoritative and increasingly transparent channels of CPC influence and power,” according to some China watchers.

The international department used to be dedicated to diplomacy with other foreign communist parties but it has expanded to forging relations with political parties in many parts of the world.

At the time of Liu’s visit, President Marcos had already declared that he would not give up an inch of territory to a foreign power, referring to China and the country’s maritime dispute with the regional giant.

‘What’s the point?’

As chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, Imee has consistently taken positions sympathetic to China. In at least three instances, she made her preference for China public.

In a Senate hearing in September last year, she poked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials when she questioned them on their constant filing of diplomatic protests against China on its incursions on the West Philippine Sea. At the time, the DFA had filed more than 300 diplomatic protests during Duterte’s presidency with 48 more under Marcos.

Here are excerpts from the exchange between Imee and the DFA, as CNN Philippines reported:

Imee: “What’s the point of sending hundreds of hundreds of protests aside from, well, annoying both parties?”

“Nakakahiya na dinideadma ka na sa sulat ka nang sulat nakakawala ng dignidad at respeto parang di maganda na ganoon.” [It’s embarrassing that you keep writing to them, and they keep ignoring you. You lose your dignity and respect, and it doesn’t look good.]

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Angela Ponce: “The protests are an assertion of our rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and under the arbitral award. By asserting our rights, we are ensuring that we do not lose them.”

Imee: “Is there a better way of doing this that is less confrontational and less anti-culturally Asian?”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo: “I’m thinking of sending fewer notes but with more substance, omnibus [diplomatic protests], I’m seriously thinking that.”

‘Paikot-ikot lang

Next on Imee’s poke list was the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) which is on the frontlines of protecting the West Philippine Sea (WPS). In a separate Senate hearing, she scolded the PCG for just limiting itself to doing patrols. She wanted them to talk to the aggressor, the China Coast Guard: “I’m quite surprised that the Coast Guard is sitting on the sidelines and waiting… Paikot-ikot lang?…Wala naman kayong ginagawa.” (You go around in circles?…You’re not doing anything.) 

Admiral Artemio Abu, PCG head, was not in the Senate hearing but, in a speech before new Coast Guard recruits, countered Imee by saying that her comment that they were sitting idly by was not true.  In fact, on Abu’s watch, the Coast Guard went beyond patrols and installed buoys, which served as sovereign markers, in the WPS. They also started to accompany the Navy in its supply missions to Ayungin Shoal.

US military aircraft, too

Last month, Imee urged the government to strictly monitor US military aircraft that enter the country’s airspace the same way it tracks down Chinese ships intruding into the West Philippine Sea. “The same zeal in tracking any violations in our maritime territory and EEZ (exclusive economic zone) must also apply where Philippine air traffic rules and joint military agreements with the US are concerned,” she said.

The US military planes that landed in the country were involved in joint exercises with the Philippine armed forces.

In my interview with Renato de Castro, international relations professor at De La Salle University, I asked him about the senator’s proposal. He explained the vast difference between the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (an occupying force) and the US military aircraft  (a friendly force) in the country.

The Chinese ships enter our EEZ without permission while the American planes’ entry is covered by legal agreements. Moreover, the aim of China is to challenge the Philippines’ sovereign rights, posing a threat, while the US is in our country to assist the military.

Watch the interview here:

Imee Marcos tilts towards China

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.