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China incursions to continue amid Philippines' weak stance on WPS, veteran journo says

If the Philippines will have a weak stance in its maritime claims, Chinese vessels will continue to swarm the West Philippine Sea, a veteran journalist said.

In an interview on The Howie Severino Podcast, Marites Vitug, author of "Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case against China," lamented the Duterte government's "ambiguous"  position against China, which continued to ignore the 2016 arbitral ruling.

"Well, kasi nga ambiguous sa atin, hindi strong, hindi united, hindi iisa 'yung ating position, talagang lalabas ang Philippines na weak. Saka rito habang nag-aaway tayo or habang hindi coherent nga 'yung position especially ni Philippine President Duterte, tuluy-tuloy 'yung incursions sa Julian Felipe Reef," Vitug said.

(Because our stance is ambiguous, not strong, not united, we don't have a single position, it would really show that the Philippines is weak. While our position is still incoherent especially that of Philippine President Duterte, incursions at Julian Felipe Reef will continue.)

"Hundreds of ships hindi titigil diyan. I'm sure mayroon na namang another wave of militia ships na darating when or where, it's anybody's guess pero tuluy-tuloy 'yan," she told Severino.

(Hundreds of ships will not stop swarming the territory. I'm sure there will be another wave of militia ships that will arrive, when or where, it's anybody's  guess but it will continue.)

Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. previously cursed at China, telling the Asian nation to "get the f_ck out" of Philippine waters. The foreign affairs department kept sending diplomatic protests over the continued incursions of Beijing at the West Philippine Sea. He later apologized to his China counterpart over the expletives.

Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana had asked China to stop its incursions at the Julian Felipe Reef. He later clarified that he has the same stance with the President but military patrols will continue to defend the country's claims in the Philippine waters.

Duterte earlier ordered his Cabinet members to stop talking about the West Philippine Sea issue as presidential spokesman Harry Roque is his designated spokesperson about it.

Meanwhile, Vitug maintained that the tribunal ruling is still significant since the country's military assets are not equipped enough to challenge China's militia boats.

"So nanalo tayo roon sa ruling na sinasabi malinaw na malinaw na false news pala, fake news pala 'yung nine-dash line claim ng China. So ang linaw ng ruling so ayun, undisputed na ruling 'yun. Hindi kanila ang most parts of South China Sea. So 'yun ang victory natin," she said.

(We won in that ruling and it shows that the nine-dash claim of China is fake news. The ruling is clear, it is undisputed. It showed that China has no jurisdiction over most parts of the South China Sea. So that's our victory.)

The fifth year of the international court decision indicating the Philippines' victory against China will be marked on July 12.

China's investments in Philippines failed to reach target

Vitug noted that despite friendly relations with Duterte, China failed to reach its target of $24 billion foreign investments in the Philippines.

On the other hand, Chinese foreign investments in the country increased during the administration of the late former President Benigno Aquino III despite the strong territorial tension, Vitug said.

"Nagkaroon ng surge and guess kung ano 'yung reason? Kasi ang ganda ng economy natin noon. It was growing sa 6% plus. So without... kahit na nag-away, pumasok pa rin pero hindi siya large scale investments," she said, quoting the June 2021 study of Alvin Camba, a Philippine scholar looking into Chinese investments.

(There was a surge but guess what's the reason? Because our economy back then was good. It was growing by 6% plus. Even if we had a feud with China, there was an increase but not large scale investments.)

So far, Vitug said, China's accomplished investment was Dito Telecommunity, the Philippines' third telco, which received a 25-year franchise in May.

"'Yung Bicol South Railway Project mga ongoing, 'yung Safe Philippines with the LGUs ongoing din, at saka 'yung pinakamalaking dalawang dams - 'yung Kaliwa Dam at saka 'yung Chico River Irrigation Project," she said.

(Bicol South Railway Project is ongoing, Safe Philippines with LGUs is also ongoing, as well as the Kaliwa Dam and Chico River Irrigation Project.)

"Pero hindi 'yan aabot doon sa $24 billion (But that will not reach $24 billion) so are we better off? Palagay ko mas hindi (I don't think so)," she added.

Duterte's ties to China stems from personal likes, preferences

Vitug said Duterte's closeness to China stemmed from his personal connection with Filipino-Chinese businessmen even before he was elected president.

"Nandu'n palang nu'ng mayor siya sa Davao malapit na siya sa mga Filipino-Chinese, mga Chinese businessman. Hindi ito automatic but na-cultivate kasi kinultivate siya nu'ng mga negosyante at naging friends nila," Vitug said, quoting Earl Parreno's book, Biography of Duterte, when she was asked about the lukewarm response of the Duterte administration on the 2016 arbitral victory.

(He was close to Filipino-Chinese, Chinese businessmen even when he was the mayor of Davao. This is not automatic but their relationship was cultivated over the years.)

"So it's a very personal connection. So ngayon ang conclusion ko 'yung foreign policy ni Duterte (My conclusion is Duterte's policy) stems from his personal preferences, personal likes. Komportable talaga siya sa China (He is comfortable with China)," she added.

But Duterte's network with local Chinese businessmen was also extended to businessmen from the Chinese mainland, Vitug also pointed out.

In his previous speech, Duterte said the country owed a debt of gratitude from its good friend, China.

The Chief Executive had said he will continue to pursue mutually beneficial bilateral relations with China, which donated vaccines to the Philippines to start its inoculation program.—AOL, GMA News