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Palace: Strong statements vs. China nothing to do with midterm elections

Malacañang denied that its strong statements against China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea had something to do with appeasing voters ahead of the May 13 midterm elections.

“Nothing to do with the election,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a virtual press conference with foreign journalists on Monday.

He said the Palace’s responses to reports about China’s movements in areas claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea were “studied” and “calibrated.”

“We just don’t issue reckless statements when we receive reports on this and that,” he said.

“We have to validate. If we validate the same as true then we make our statements. With respect to whether it will affect the election, the survey of the President shows very high rating for him. So I don’t think it has anything to do with [the] elections.”

While President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot, analysts have viewed the midterm elections as a referendum on the administration and a litmus test for the chief executive’s popularity which bounced back to a personal high in March.

Duterte has come under fire over his decision to warm up ties with China, temporarily setting aside the 2016 ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated Beijing's excessive claims to the South China Sea as he sought deeper economic and trade ties with the Asian powerhouse.

But as reports of Chinese vessels surrounding the Pag-asa Island came in, Duterte said on April 4 that China should lay off the area and he would deploy soldiers there for a "suicide mission" if Beijing touches it.

Panelo also began making statements rebuking China’s activities in Pag-asa after the Department of Foreign Affairs called them “illegal” and “clear violation” of Philippine sovereignty.

The Palace spokesman added Duterte “effectively” invoked the ruling with respect to Pag-asa.

The Palace urged China to respect the arbitral decision even as Beijing refused to recognize it and maintained sovereignty and ownership over the resource-rich waters.

Duterte will fly to Beijing later this month to attend the second Belt and Road forum where he is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Palace said the developments in the South China Sea may be discussed during the meeting but it was not immediately clear whether Duterte will raise the ruling with Xi. — RSJ, GMA News