MANILA - "It's really a mess."
This is how opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros described President Rodrigo Duterte's handling of Chinese repeated incursions in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Speaking to ANC's Matters of Fact, Hontiveros said the President seemed to degrade the statements of his own advisers who have spoken out against Chinese intrusions in the West Philippine Sea.
"It's really a mess. And beyond the messaging part, which is clearly very messy. Palagay ko maling-mali ang posisyon ni Presidente sa Tsina at sa West Philippine Sea. And maybe, I can only guess as an outsider, maybe his own inner circle also have their own debates about the correctness not only of their messaging but the content. We've heard much better, proper positions from Sec. [Teodoro] Locsin, from Sec. [Delfin] Lorenzana about Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea vis-a-vis China," she said in the interview.
"The President seems to degrade their statements by his repeated avowals of BFF niya ang Tsina, na ang Tsina ang in possession ng West Philippine Sea, and his silence on really egregious actions by China katulad nitong kamakailan na fishing ban laban sa ating mga mangingisda sa West Philippine Sea."
"So the President's silence and then when he speaks, his very un-Filipino pronouncements about these issues, 'yun talaga ang malaking mess, rather than The Hague ruling na sabi nila ay papel na dapat itapon sa basurahan. 'Yung ganitong pananahimik at pagiging un-Filipino sa kabila ng ginagawa ng Tsina— 'yun ang basura, at 'yun ang dapat itapon sa basurahan."
Duterte has banned his cabinet from speaking out in public on the South China Sea dispute, after key ministers engaged in a war of words with Beijing.
While Duterte has been reluctant to confront China over the issue, his foreign and defense secretaries have repeatedly criticized Beijing for its refusal to withdraw the ships from the disputed waters.
Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted an expletive-tagged demand for the Chinese vessels to leave the area.
His online swearing prompted a rebuke from Beijing and Locsin later apologized to his Chinese counterpart.
"This is my order now to the cabinet... to refrain (from) discussing this West Philippine Sea (issue) with... anybody," Duterte said in a recorded speech late Monday, using the local name for the sea.
"If we have to talk, we talk only among us," Duterte told several cabinet members, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who previously described the presence of Chinese boats as an "incursion".
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque was allowed to address the issue in public, Duterte added.
'A REFERENDUM ON DUTERTE ADMINISTRATION'
In the interview, Hontiveros also slammed presidential spokesperson Harry Roque for politicizing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as the country geared up for the 2022 elections.
The President's spokesman earlier said a successful inoculation program would pose a problem for opposition candidates in the upcoming polls.
Hontiveros, however, said the pandemic is more than just a campaign issue but a life and death issue. She added that the upcoming polls would be a form of referendum on how the Duterte administration responded to the pandemic.
"The vaccines are meant to save lives, not to buy votes. Hirap ang mamamayang Pilipino, nagkakasakit, gutom. Bakit pamumulitika pa ang patuloy na pinapakain sa kanila?"
(The Filipino people are suffering, getting sick [and] hungry. Why is politics shoved down their throats?)
"This is a life and death issue and in any political exercise, including elections, that will already be front and center of the attention of the citizens or of the voters. At dapat lang, issue of accountability yan, issue of performance yan."
As of May 18, more than 786,000 people were fully vaccinated or 1.36 percent of the government's target. It aims to inoculate 58 million Filipinos by year-end to achieve herd immunity.
The Philippines has so far received over 8.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Gamaleya Institute.
Since the pandemic began, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.1 million people in the country, of which 19,500 died from the disease.
With a report by Agence France-Presse