Duterte ‘privately’ dealing with China’s West Philippine Sea incursions

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is “privately” dealing with China’s incursions into the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Malacañang said on Thursday, as it asserted that the Chief Executive’s “diplomatic initiatives” are covered by the exemption to freedom of information.

President Rodrigo Duterte 

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. made the statement after the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea reported that at least 240 suspected Chinese militia vessels were lingering in the disputed waters.

“Ang larangan ng diplomasya, isang exception to freedom of information (The field of diplomacy is an exception to freedom of information),” Roque said during a virtual press briefing.

“Kung ano man ang ginagawa ng Presidente, hayaan nating gawin niya iyon sa isang pribadong pamamaraan dahil hindi naman po dapat inaanunsyo sa publiko ang mga diplomatic initiatives o hakbang na ginagawa ng Pangulo (Whatever the President is doing, let us allow him to do it in a private manner because diplomatic initiatives and efforts the President is doing need not be announced),” he added.

The Palace official, however, expressed hope that the issue would be settled through the friendship that the Philippines has cultivated with China.

“In the past five years of his administration, we have moved from a position of antagonism with China to a position of friendship. Malaki naman po ang mapapakinabang natin ngayong nakakapag-usap tayo ng bansang China (We have gained so much now that we are able to talk with China),” Roque said.

“Inaasahan po natin na yung malapit na pagkakaibigan natin ang magiging dahilan kung bakit sila ay aalis nang mas maaga kaysa mas matagal (We expect that our close friendship will be the way for their vessels to leave the area sooner than later),” he added.

Roque previously said Duterte wanted the rift over China’s presence at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea resolved through peaceful means, counting on the two nations’ cozy relations, which the President cultivated since assuming power in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Palace official said that the Philippines remained committed to the crafting of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has begun filing daily diplomatic protests over the continuing presence of the Chinese ships at Julian Felipe Reef.

The first diplomatic protest counts as the daily protest as long as there are Chinese ships in and around Julian Felipe Reef and the second is on the dispersal of Chinese vessels to other parts of Philippine maritime zones.

Apart from the filing of diplomatic protests, the Department of Foreign Affairs has also summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian over the lingering presence of China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone

The Philippines first lodged a note verbale over the incident in Julian Felipe Reef on March 21 after around 200 Chinese vessels were spotted moored in line formation in the area.

The number reportedly decreased to 44 ships based on a March 30 patrol by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The AFP on Wednesday said it would continue the conduct of air and naval patrols off West Philippine Sea to provide a firm basis for diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines due to continued Chinese incursions in the area.