Does Duterte gag order cover sea task force, defense chief? Spox says President clear enough

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2021 02:42 PM

Does Duterte gag order cover sea task force, defense chief? Spox says President clear enough 1
Members of the Philippine Coast Guard participate during a training on navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations in the West Philippine Sea in Palawan on April 24, 2021.  Philippine Coast Guard/File 

 
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte this week barred Cabinet members from talking about China's incursions in Philippine waters, save for his spokesman Harry Roque and the Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. 

But does the gag order cover Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who once demanded that Chinese ships leave the West Philippine Sea? 

"I think the President's message was clear, and I don't have to interpret it," Roque said in response to this question in a press briefing on Tuesday. 
 
He made the same response when asked if the gag order covered the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), which regularly releases statements and photos of the Chinese ships encroaching into the country's exclusive economic zone. 

"The instruction of the President was clear... that only the secretary of Foreign Affairs and myself can speak on the issue now," said Roque. 

Locsin's department uses information from the task force as basis for filing diplomatic protests against Beijing. This means the information is "relevant to diplomatic communications covered by executive privilege," he said. 

"Although there is transparency, an exception to transparency are diplomatic communications and inputs that form the basis of diplomatic communications, Roque said. 

"We need to allow the executive branch to make the correct decision no matter what," he added. 

Beijing refuses to recognize a 2016 arbitral ruling that junked its "historical" claims to the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea. 

Duterte has refused to press China to obey the ruling, and pursued loans and investments from the economic superpower. 

Manila and Beijing's maritime spat flared again in March after the NTF-WPS reported that some 200 Chinese ships swarmed waters inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. 

Earlier this May, Duterte said the Philippine arbitral victory against China was just "a piece of paper" which he said led to nothing. 

In a statement that Roque read on Tuesday, Duterte said, "Our principled position and stand on the West PH Sea remains... Our vessels will continue to patrol relevant areas to assert what is ours." 

However, Duterte said the Philippines "must be willing to do what we can as responsible members of the community." 

"Diplomacy will play an important part. Let us fully utilize the bilateral consultation mechanism and other diplomatic venues to engage China," he added. 

Video courtesy of PTV ​