Palace says 'only right' to honor 'utang na loob' to China for COVID-19 vaccines

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 29 2021 03:27 PM | Updated as of Apr 29 2021 04:27 PM

Palace says Philippines has debt of gratitude to COVAX, too

President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian check a vial of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccine during the arrival ceremony for the first shipment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines to reach the country, at the Villamor Air Base, Pasay City, Feb. 28, 2021. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA — Malacañang said on Thursday it was "only right" for Manila to honor its "debt of gratitude" to Beijing for its COVID-19 vaccines, which President Rodrigo Duterte said was why he would not go to war with the Asian superpower despite its incursions in Philippine waters. 

Duterte had said in a public address on Wednesday: "We do not want war with China. China is a good friend."

"Mayroon tayong utang na loob na marami pati ‘yong bakuna natin," he added. 

(We have a huge debt of gratitude that we have vaccines.)

International law bans any country from starting war, which is a "crime of aggression," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque, a former law professor. 

"Pagdating po sa utang na loob, alam mo naman tayong mga Pilipino, hindi po tayo bulag sa mga tulong na natatanggap natin," he said in a press briefing. 

(When it comes to debt of gratitude, you know that we, Filipinos, we are not blind to the help that we receive.) 

"Hanggang ngayon naman po, ang naaasahan lang natin, Sinovac, aminin po natin 'yan. Ilang buwan na tayong nagsimula, Sinovac lang naaasahan talaga natin. Tama lang po na tumanaw ng utang na loob," added the official, referring to the Chinese made vaccine.

(Until now, we only rely on Sinovac, let's admit that. It has been months since we started our vaccination, it's only Sinovac that we rely on. It's only right that we honor our debt of gratitude.) 

The bulk of the Philippines' 4.025 million COVID-19 shots came from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech. China donated 1 million of these doses. 

Aside from China, global vaccine-sharing COVAX Facility will donate 33 million vaccine doses to the Philippines, on top of securing 10 million jabs that the government would pay for. 

"Hindi naman natin sinasabi na wala rin tayong utang na loob doon sa mga bansa na nag-contribute sa COVAX Facility. Pinasalamatan nga rin po sila ni Presidente," said Roque. 

"Tumatanaw din po tayo ng utang na loob sa kanila." 

(We are not saying that we have no debt of gratitude to the countries that contributed to the COVAX Facility. The President has thanked them. We honor debt of gratitude to them, too.)

Among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, the Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people or two-thirds of its population this year. 

Its procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from China continues amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea, which saw fresh tensions recently over the presence of over 200 ships in the country's exclusive economic zone in the waters. 

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Duterte vowed to ride a jetski and plant a flag at the Spratlys— islands within the Philippine EEZ in the South China Sea— to assert Philippine sovereignty. In the same breath, he said he won't wage war against China. 

 The Philippines is sourcing a total of 25 million COVID-19 shots from China's Sinovac. Officials earlier said the vaccine was a separate issue from the maritime dispute. 

Manila has filed several diplomatic protests against a recent swarm of 240 Chinese boats in the waterway. Beijing refuses to obey the 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed court that junked its "historical" claims to almost the entire South China Sea, including the Philippines' EEZ or the West Philippine Sea. 

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