Vice President Leni Robredo and the candidates of the Otso Diretso senatorial slate slammed China’s construction of a “maritime rescue center” on one of the reefs within the West Philippine Sea, and Malacañang’s continued complacency over the territorial dispute.
The Otso Diretso candidates, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and lawyer Chel Diokno, denounced in particular the statement made by Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, who said that the public should even be “thankful” for the construction of the relief center, dismissing the fact that it is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Alejano, a bemedalled former Marine officer, hit Panelo over serving as China’s “spokesperson” instead of fighting for the Philippines’ rights there.
“Ngayon, nagmistulang spokesperson ang Pilipinas ng China, sa ginagawa ng China sa South China Sea. Nananalo na sila dahil tumatahimik tayo, hindi nagrereklamo ang Duterte administration,” he said on VP Leni’s weekly radio show.
“Kapag hindi ho tayo tumayo sa ating karapatan diyan sa West Philippine Sea, there is no assurance that we would be able to protect and defend Benham Rise and even the entire country,” he added.
Diokno, a revered human rights lawyer, echoed this, and emphasized that such pronouncements give China a free pass in infringing the country’s rights to the area.
“Atin iyan. Matagal na nating ipinaglalaban iyan, at mismong arbitral tribunal ay sinabi na sa ating teritoryo iyan. Hindi ko maintindihan na magpapasalamat pa raw tayo sa ibang bansa,” he said. “Bakit may teritoryo tayo na ipamimigay natin? We have no reason to give up our sovereignty.”
For her part, Robredo underscored that the government must be the first to protect the historic victory of the Philippines before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The senatorial candidates under Otso Diretso have long expressed its concerns and opposition against the administration’s “friendliness” with China, and its refusal to speak out against the reclamation that the said country is doing over areas within the West Philippine Sea, as well as over Chinese authorities’ harassment of Filipino fishermen in the area.
Aside from Alejano and Diokno, the Otso Diretso slate includes: Sen. Bam Aquino; former senator Mar Roxas; former congressman Erin Tañada; former solicitor general Florin Hilbay; election lawyer Romy Macalintal; and Samira Gutoc, who resigned as member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to protest against the President’s misogyny.