MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has not spoken about the presence of Chinese boats in the West Philippine Sea because his aides have already done so, Malacañang said on Monday.
Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, "the utterances of the alter egos are utterances of the President, unless the President renounces them," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
"Kapag hindi po dini-disown ng Presidente ang sinasabi ng kaniyang mga alter egos, parang siya na ang nagsasalita. Hindi na siya kinakailangan magsalita," Roque said in a press briefing.
(If the President does not disown what his alter egos say, it's like it was he who said those. He does not need to speak.)
"Hindi ko na po maintindihan ano pa ang gusto ng mga kritiko ni Presidente," said Roque. "Nagsalita na po ang kalihim ng foreign affairs, nagsasalita na ang kalihim ng national defense," he added.
(I cannot understand what else the critics of the President want. The secretaries of foreign affairs and national defense have spoken.)
The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed several protests against some hundreds of Chinese boats since March in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
The agency also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to press for the withdrawal of its vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Twitter, "they really are fishing everything in the water that belongs by law to us."
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said "the continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy (areas) in the West Philippine Sea."
The two secretaries' remarks "remain official utterances of the highest officialdom of government," said Roque.
Despite strongly worded statements and diplomatic protests by Philippine authorities, China would still believe it has President Rodrigo Duterte as its ally because he is not speaking himself, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said last week.
"The President must speak. He must stand up himself because if his subordinates do the talking, China will not listen because China will listen only to the leader of the nation," he said.
"If the President is silent, then China will continue."
Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte has criticized US foreign policy and sought to improve ties with Beijing, but China's maritime assertiveness has put him in a difficult spot at times.
The Philippine navy had planned to deploy 3 more ships in the South China Sea, within which is the Philippines' territorial waters.
"We have to understand that to say that one area is ours, we have to be there," military spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo had said.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea had been declared to have no legal basis by a UN-backed arbitration court.
– With a report from Reuters