MANILA — Senator Manny Pacquiao on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte's stance against Beijing regarding the West Philippine Sea weakened after the 2016 national elections, describing his latest response on the issues surrounding it as "lacking."
Pacquiao admitted that he found Duterte's efforts to assert the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) rights in the West Philippine Sea as insufficient compared to his pronouncements against China when he was still running for the top post 5 years ago.
“Nakukulangan ako doon kumpara doon sa bago siya tumakbo eleksyon pa lang. Dapat ituloy niya yun para magkaroon ng respeto sa atin ang China," the senator explained.
(I found the President's response lacking compared as to when he was still running for the national elections. He should continue with our strong stance so China would respect us.)
Duterte in 2016 said he would personally go to the West Philippine Sea so he could raise the country's flag there, as a statement against China's incursions.
This, however, never came into fruition due to a couple of reasons, most notably the supposed absence of gasoline stations in the area.
The chief executive also recently reiterated his personal view that the Philippines cannot do anything about China's claim in the disputed territories, as he feared for a possibility of war.
“Yung statemant niya bago siya tumakbo na mag-jetski, ipaglaban niya ang West Philippine sea, na magdala siya ng flag na itayo niya doon, yun ay nagbgay ng encouragement sa ating kababayan. Lumakas ang loob natin. Sabi ko, ito yung gusto ko tapos pagdating ng panahon nag-buckle buckle tayo," the senator said.
Duterte, also last week, said the country holds a "debt of gratitude" for Chinese aid, which includes the 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for the country's virus response.
But Pacquiao pointed out that while he agreed with him on this, the aids should not hinder the country from fighting for its rights in its own territory.
“Yes, may utang na loob tayo sa China, 'di natin nakakalimutan yun, pero hindi ibig-sabihin na aapapkaan na ang karapatan natin. Ang hinihiling natin ay igalang ang karapatan natin," he noted.
He added that he wrote a letter to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on April 10 regarding the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
“We reiterate our call to your government to promptly withdraw these vessels from our territory. We demand nothing less than for your country to respect our sovereignty,” his letter read.
What the senator received in return was a text message.
“The Ambassador of China replied informally. Yung reply niya, ‘We received the letter from Hon. Pacquiao dated April 10. Ambassador is hoping that any differences will not affect our exchanges and cooperation.’ Yun ang sabi niya,” according to Pacquiao.
Several senators have also voiced their concerns on China's incursions in Philippine waters, saying the country would need the help of the international community to send a stronger statement against Asia's largest economy.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. expressed expletives against China's ships, telling them to leave the country's waters.
Five Chinese Coast Guard vessels remain in the country's waters as of April 22, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) earlier said.
The Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in late April conducted maritime drills in the disputed areas, even as Chinese ships have been sighted there since early March.
The deployment of additional vessels and aircraft in the area aims to intensify operations against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and to "increase safety of life at sea operations", the NTF-WPS earlier said.
- With a report from April Rafales, ABS-CBN News