‘Philippines, Province of China’ signs stir anger on anniversary of arbitration win

Traffic enforcers stand next to a banner reading ‘Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China’ after removing it from an overpass in Metro Manila. (Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018
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‘Philippines, Province of China’ signs stir anger on anniversary of arbitration win

  • No group claimed responsibility for the banners, which feature English and Chinese characters and a Chinese flag flanked by dragons
  • Some users accused the political opposition of making the signs to discredit the government’s warming ties with China

MANILA: Banners calling the Philippines a “province of China” mysteriously appeared on bridges in Manila on Thursday, sparking fury on social media on what was the second anniversary of Manila’s victory over Beijing in a landmark arbitration case.
The terms “province of China” and “South China Sea” trended prominently on Twitter, while news reports of the sudden appearance of the red tarpaulin banners along key thoroughfares generated thousands of shares and comments on Facebook.
No group claimed responsibility for the banners, which feature English and Chinese characters and a Chinese flag flanked by dragons. City authorities were seen removing some of them, which were spotted in at least five locations.
Emojis denoting anger or surprise dominated comments on social media next to pictures of the signs, which say “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled two years ago that China had no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking its fishermen and building artificial islands in its Exclusive Economic Zone.
“NOT FUNNY,” former solicitor general and chief lawyer for the Philippine case, Florin Hilbay, posted on his social media accounts.
Some users accused the political opposition of making the signs to discredit the government’s warming ties with China.
Other chided the government for not challenging China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. “This is too much. The country was sold off,” one Facebook user said.
The two countries have a bitter history of disputes over maritime sovereignty, but under President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office just two weeks before the Hague ruling, Manila has taken a conciliatory approach and wants China’s loans, trade and investments.
Duterte frequently praises Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and in February caused a stir when he jokingly offered the Philippines to Beijing as a province of China.
The Philippines scored an “own goal” in its failure to press China to implement the arbitration ruling, opposition party Akbayan said.
During an event to mark the anniversary of the ruling, Vice President Leni Robredo, who was elected separately to Duterte, said Filipinos should peacefully protest against the government’s inaction.
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, called the banners “absurd” and said it was likely the government’s political enemies were behind them.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Thai boys rescued from cave mourn diver who died

Updated 15 July 2018
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Thai boys rescued from cave mourn diver who died

  • The health ministry said the overall condition for the players and coach was normal
  • Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were only told about his death on Saturday

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The 12 boys and their coach rescued from a Thai cave mourned the death of an ex-Navy SEAL who died while taking part in the mission, the health ministry said Sunday.
The “Wild Boars” football team are recovering in hospital following 18 days spent inside the Tham Luang cave after entering on June 23 and getting trapped by monsoon floodwaters.
Doctors say they are in good health following a successful three-day operation which ended July 10 when teams of Thai Navy SEALs and international cave diving experts hauled the last five members of the team to safety.
But the lead-up to the final phase of the mission was met with tragedy when volunteer and former Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan died on July 6 while installing oxygen tanks along the twisting passageways of the cave.
Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were only told about his death on Saturday after a medical team said they were strong enough mentally to handle the news, though many wept after hearing it.
“All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lt. Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him,” Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary at the health ministry, said in the statement.
Photos released show the youngsters crowded around a sketch of Saman scrawling messages on it and bowing their heads in commemoration.
“They also thanked him and promised to be good boys,” the statement said.
Tributes from Thailand and around the world have poured in for Saman, a triathlete and diver who retired from the military in 2006 and worked at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport before volunteering to help with the rescue in northern Thailand.
Specialists who took part in the risky mission to bring the Wild Boars home have expressed shock and surprise that they were able to pull it off, with some fearing that there could have been more casualties.
The unprecedented and daring final push to bring the boys out saw them sedated and carried through waterlogged and partially dry corridors with the help of military stretchers and nearly 100 divers.
Health officials have conveyed a largely positive picture of the boys’ recovery. All are expected to leave hospital on Thursday.
The health ministry said the overall condition for the players and coach was normal, though many are still on a course of antibiotics.
Despite the positive assessments so far experts have said they would all need to be monitored closely for signs of psychological distress that could take months to manifest.
They spent nine days in the dark, dank cave before being located by two British divers.
The boys — and their parents — have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give media interviews as that could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
But the interest in their story is unlikely to evaporate overnight, as Hollywood producers are already jockeying to make a film version of the saga.