WASHINGTON - Filipinos protested alleged Chinese intrusions in the Spratly Islands, holding a peaceful but lively lunchtime demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy even as top diplomatic officials attempted to cushion its impact.
The protest actions mounted in Washington and in front of Chinese consulates in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago were dubbed a “rally for fairness and dignity.”
Speakers outside the Chinese Embassy assailed what they saw as China’s bullying tactics against the smaller and militarily weaker Philippines.
They also hit China’s plan to deploy this month an $892 million oil platform inside the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Protesters said the Chinese oil rig will generate billions of dollars in oil revenues ($50 billion by 2020 according to the group’s reckoning) that they emphasized should have benefitted Filipinos.
They urged China to honor its pledge to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), three of whose member nations have claims in the Spratlys, to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully and through negotiations.
The protesters were composed mainly of Filipino teachers from Prince George’s County who are facing a crisis themselves after the US Labor Department debarred the Prince George’s County Public Schools for violation of immigration rules when they were hired in the Philippines.
Adding color was Laila Lao, aunt of Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who lives in Arlington, Virginia, boldly declaring she would punch out anyone who tried to trample on Filipino dignity.
But beyond the bravado, Philippine officials in Washington have reached out to their Chinese counterparts to assure them that the protests did not have the Aquino administration’s blessings and were purely a private initiative by concerned Filipinos.
The Washington DC picket was part of a nationwide protest organized by the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG), an organization established last year to campaign for then-Presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III largely among Filipinos in the United States.
The group kept their ties with President Aquino after his landslide win in the May 2010 elections.
While the group’s anti-China protest appears fueled by genuine nationalistic fervor, other Fil-Ams in the Metro DC area have quietly expressed concern that it may wrinkle relations in the Asian American community that is dominated by the Chinese.
Many Fil-Am initiatives, including the recent lobby on Capitol Hill for Filipino World War II veterans, received significant backing from Chinese-American organizations.
The Metro DC-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) urged President Aquino to convene a multilateral conference among China, Philippines and other countries with claims in the Spratly Islands. Lawyer Arnedo Valera, MHC executive director, said the parties could call on the United Nations to mediate the talks.
Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. reportedly met with Chinese Ambassador to the US Zhang Yesui around the same time that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was visiting Beijing and conferring with top Chinese officials on various issues, including the situation in the South China Sea.
In a statement following the meeting between Del Rosario and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the two sides vowed to “make joint efforts to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea region”.
President Aquino has indicated he wanted to take up Chinese President Hu Jintao’s invitation for him to visit China but no date has been set yet.