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Roque: Duterte's debt of gratitude to China over vaccines not ceding West Philippine Sea

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President Rodrigo Duterte saying that he owes a great debt of gratitude to China because of COVID-19 vaccine supply provision does not mean surrendering authority on the West Philippine Sea, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday.

Roque was responding to questions in connection with the President’s speech last night that China is a good friend of the Philippines.

“Hindi po. May hangganan po ang pakikipagkaibigan sa Tsina,” Roque said when asked if the President’s comment on debt of gratitude gives China the authority to do whatever it wants in West Philippine Sea given the lingering presence of Chinese militias within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

(That does not mean he is ceding authority to China. Our friendship with China has boundaries.)

“Iyong pangingisda, puwede. Pero kung mayroong langis [na huhukayin], maninindigan na siya. Walang teritoryong mawawala sa atin habang siya ang Presidente,” Roque added.

(Fishing is allowed, but when it escalates to oil drilling, the President will stand against it. We won’t lose a territory as long as he is the President.)

He then said that the President’s debt of gratitude comment does not only cover China but even countries who donated COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines via the global initiative COVAX facility.

China has donated one million doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines which have already been delivered.

The Philippine government also bought 25 million doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines, of which 2.5 million already arrived in the country.

The remaining supply of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which reached Philippine shores were donated by various countries via the COVAX facility.

“Iyong Sinovac lang po naman talaga ang naaasahan natin, although inaasahan natin na magbabago na ito sa mga susunod na buwan (Sinovac is the only one we can really depend on at this point, although we expect this to change in the coming months),” Roque said

“Tumatanaw rin tayo ng utang na loob sa ibang bansa na nagdonate sa ilalim ng COVAX (We also pay a debt of gratitude to other countries which donated COVID-19 vaccines to us under the COVAX facility),” he added.

In closing, Roque said that President Duterte shares Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's sentiments rejecting China's call to the Philippines to stop maritime exercises in West Philippine Sea and calling the Chinese vessels in the area as intruders.

“He is the alter-ego of the President and under the theory of qualified political agency, ang sinabi niya ay salita na rin ng ating Presidente,” Roque said.

In a July 2016 ruling, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration already rejected China's claim of sovereignty in the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

The same Hague court decision—which stemmed from a case filed by the Philippines against China in 2013 during the Aquino administration—also ruled that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are within the Philippines' EEZ.—AOL, GMA News

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