‘Any suggestion?’ Duterte asks after Xi reaffirms sea claims

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, meet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP)
Updated 05 September 2019

‘Any suggestion?’ Duterte asks after Xi reaffirms sea claims

  • China refused to participate in the arbitration case that Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, initiated after China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine president has acknowledged he’s short of solutions to press China to adhere to Manila’s arbitration victory in their South China Sea disputes after he said Chinese President Xi Jinping told him flatly: “We will not budge.”
President Rodrigo Duterte spoke for the first time about his talk with Xi about the thorny disputes in a televised news conference Wednesday night where he was asked what move he would take next. Duterte, who has nurtured friendly ties with China, met Xi in Beijing last week.
“They’re claiming it as their own and the bad part is that they are claiming it as their historical right and they have the control over the property,” Duterte said. “That’s our problem... If you can help by suggesting, is there any other suggestion? Or have you heard of any sane solution short of going to war with China saying, ‘we will not budge“’?
The Philippine leader has long been criticized by nationalists and left-wing groups for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with a 2016 ruling by an arbitration tribunal in The Hague that declared China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea invalid under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The ruling also upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights over a wide stretch of waters called the exclusive economic zone, where Chinese territorial claims have delayed for years Manila’s plan to explore and extract potential undersea deposits of oil and gas.
Duterte said he raised the arbitration ruling in a meeting with Xi and other Chinese officials and he quoted the Chinese leader as replying almost in a whisper: “You know, our statement was ‘We will not budge.’ We don’t want to discuss that because it’s ours. We own the property. Why should we talk to you?“
Duterte said he reacted by telling Xi that, “It will remain a problem. It will be ... just like a sore thumb that sticks out painfully every day.”
Xi at that point tried to shift from the topic, and Duterte said he did not press on, knowing the Chinese president has been preoccupied by anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
“Out of courtesy, I said, ‘Well, I will not, maybe, insist on your answer now. I am not satisfied with your answer, but I will not ask for any other answer. I’ll just remain where I am, where I started considering that you are under stress by the incidents in Hong Kong.’“
“They have a problem so he’s hot-headed. We should time it. You know, the art of diplomacy,” Duterte said. “If a person loses a child or is left by his girlfriend, he’ll really be hot-headed.”
Duterte then again said he only inherited the problem of the Chinese taking over the Scarborough Shoal from the previous administration, which he said had withdrawn Philippine ships from the contested shoal after a long standoff and allowed Chinese ships to take control of the territory.
“This is not my problem. Who withdrew?” he said.
China refused to participate in the arbitration case that Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, initiated after China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Beijing ignored and has continued to defy the arbitration ruling.


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 17 January 2020

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal Volcano, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.