MANILA: The Philippines on Tuesday reiterated that it would not allow its continuing maritime dispute with China to affect the deepening cooperation between the two nations in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes a day after President Rodrigo Duterte rejected an expletive-laced tweet by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. demanding China remove its ships from Philippine-claimed territories in the South China Sea, the latest exchange in a war of words with Beijing over the disputed region.
“China remains our benefactor,” Duterte said in a televised address on Monday.
“Just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful,” he said, adding: “We have many things to thank China for — their help in the past and their help now.”
China donated the Philippines’ first million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and since March 1 — when the government rolled out its immunization drive — the Philippines has administered nearly 2 million doses, most from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
Duterte, who has repeatedly expressed a preference for Chinese and Russian-made vaccines, also received his first dose on Monday. Malacanang said the president was inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine.
The Philippines is also expecting the delivery of more vaccines bought from the mainland.
During a palace press briefing on Tuesday, Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, said Locsin’s Twitter post was “his own personal opinion.”
“What are you doing to our friendship? You. Not us. We’re trying. You. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province,” Locsin added.
Roque said that Locsin’s remarks did not reflect “the official policy of the Philippines.”
“The president himself made this clear. Whatever differences we have with China on the issue of West Philippine Sea does not define our bilateral relations, and it will not be an obstacle to our deepening cooperation on pandemic response, vaccine cooperation, and post-pandemic recovery,” he said.
However, Roque added that the government remains firm in asserting the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippines Sea through “bilateral diplomacy with China, and multilateral engagements with ASEAN strategic partners, the UN and the international community.”
“Peaceful means to resolve our differences could not be considered as a form of subjugation. It is a dignified approach to defend our national interest and uphold international law,” Roque said.
While Duterte did not mention Locsin during his public address on Monday, Roque agreed that the president’s comments were in response to the foreign secretary’s remarks.
Meanwhile, Locsin on Tuesday said he had apologized to his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, over the tweet.
“I won’t plead the last provocation as an excuse for losing it, but if Wang Yi is following Twitter, then I’m sorry for hurting his feelings but his alone,” Locsin said.
“It’s been my elusive dream to copy until I attain in mind and manner the elegance of Wang Yi. His opinion alone matters. He mentored me in my Myanmar understanding and response. I went to China to get his advice before the ASEAN leaders summit and followed it to the letter,” he added.
On Tuesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson pushed for a review of China-Philippines’ diplomatic ties in the wake of “continued incursions and recent bullying in Philippine waters.”
“What kind of friend — or benefactor — would take what is ours, bully us and ignore our protests?” he said in a statement.
“Maybe a review of the country’s diplomatic relations is timely and called for. All the diplomatic protests that the secretary of foreign affairs filed have been ignored. The continued incursions and bullying finally got his goat. The Senate must support him in this regard,” Lacson, who heads the Senate’s national defense committee, said.
He added that the Senate should throw its support behind Locsin, who has filed numerous diplomatic protests over China’s conduct.