MANILA — Members of the House of Representatives' progressive Makabayan bloc on Thursday called out President Rodrigo Duterte for saying the Philippines' 2016 arbitral win against China's illegal claims in the South China Sea is "just a piece of paper."
"Sobrang napaka-insensitive, kung hindi naman ay napakabalahura ng sinabi ni President Duterte na isang papel lang 'yung desisyon na ipinanalo natin doon sa Arbitral Tribunal noong 2016. Takot na takot si President Duterte sa galit ng China pero hindi sa galit ng mamamayang Pilipino," ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro told a press conference Thursday.
(Duterte's statement was very insensitive, even disgusting. He is so scared of angering China but does not care about the outrage of the Filipino people.)
Castro was reacting to Duterte's statement Wednesday night where he belittled the Philippines' arbitral victory that invalidated China's sweeping claims to the West Philippine Sea, saying it was just a piece of paper that led to nothing.
"Nag-file sila ng kaso, nanalo tayo. ‘Yang papel sa totoong buhay between nation, ‘yang papel ‘yan, wala ‘yan. Kung sino iyong tigas, United States, Britain ‘pag ginusto nila—" he said in a taped speech, without finishing his sentence.
Castro said by downplaying the arbitral award, Duterte proved that he was not concerned about Filipinos who depend on the resource-rich waters within the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for their livelihood.
"Wala siyang pakialam kung magutom ang mga mangingisda pati na rin ang mamamayang Pilipino... Tungkulin niyang depensahan bilang presidente ang soberanya, ang exclusive economic zone ng Pilipinas bilang Pangulo. Sa puntong ito, hinahamon natin siya na magpaka-Pilipino ka naman President Duterte," Castro said.
(He doesn't care if our fishermen and the Filipinos starve... I dare you, President Duterte, be a Filipino and defend our sovereignty.)
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Duterte's statement has dangerous implications and could be interpreted as surrendering to invaders.
"Napakatindi po ng implication nito na nagmumula mismo sa bibig ng isang Pangulo na para mo nang sinusuko niya ang soberanya ng ating bansa despite this historic victory," Zarate said.
Zarate said China's lingering presence in Philippine waters should be escalated to the United Nations. The Philippines has lodged several protests against the incursions, but Duterte's rhetoric has been submissive to China, observers have pointed out.
"There are precedents in the past na ang ilang bansa idinulog nila sa United Nations ang kanilang mga assertions especially in relation to their sovereign rights and even national sovereignty... Bakit matamlay ang Pilipinas sa pagtutulak ng sinasabi nating Code of Conduct?" Zarate said.
(There are precedents where countries seek help from UN to assert their sovereign rights. It's puzzling why this administration is lukewarm in pushing for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.)
Manila and Beijing's spat flared again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' EEZ.
China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, and tensions have intensified as Manila stepped up maritime patrols in the area.