Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said that China’s COVID-19 vaccine donation to the Philippines did not alter the AFP's mandate to secure the country's West Philippine Sea (WPS) territories.
“We have to protect the integrity of our country, the Armed Forces is primarily mandated to do that,” Sobejana said.
“Noong merong banta sa ating mga mangingisda at mga ibang kababayan na nandyan sa WPS, tayo ay nagpadala ng naval assets upang sa ganoon maproteksyunan natin ang ating mga kababayan.”
Asked about the possibility that China's donation was an attempt to downplay the territorial dispute, the Joint Chiefs Chairman pointed out that the offer from China would help solve the Philippine COVID-19 problem.
“Sinisikap lang po ng ating Pangulo na mabigyan tayo ng proteksyun lalo na itong COVID-19. So this is more of looking after the protection of our people against this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sobejana.
“Itong donasyon na binibigay, syempre it offers good to our citizens. Kaya ‘yun ang nakikita kong nagiging... with that gesture of China, tinanggap ng ating Pangulo.”
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea and rejected China’s expansive nine-dash claim.
It also declared that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Recto (Reed) Bank were all within the Philippines' EEZ; and that the Panatag Shoal was a common fishing ground.
On Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed China’s donation of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines did not come with strings attached.
“China never asked for anything. China has been giving us everything and never asked anything from us,” Duterte said.
The donation of Sinovac vaccines from China, which arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, is the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines that reached the country.
On Monday, the vaccination rollout against COVID-19 in the Philippines started using the donation from China. — Joviland Rita/DVM, GMA News