Duterte cites need to preserve China relations after collision

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AMID calls to keep Chinese from fishing in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Malacañang said on Thursday that President Rodrigo R. Duterte will protect the country’s relationship with China, which is helping fund the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

“He is protecting the interest of the Filipino people. The ‘Build, Build, Build’ Program is precisely designed to uplift our economy, and necessarily to uplift the lives of the Filipinos,” the President’s Spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said in a briefing at the Palace on Thursday when asked if the President is trying to protect his infrastructure program.

Mr. Duterte, in his speech at the Palace Wednesday, noted that China has brought in a number of key projects, and rejected calls to ask Chinese nationals to stay away.

Ang mga projects ngayon. Kita mo naman. You from Luzon. Kita mo ’yung highway ngayon? Kita mo ’yung mga… Tapos gusto mo lang na pilitin na umalis sila doon?” (You can see where the projects are — you are from Luzon. Are you aware of the highway projects? How can you force the Chinese to leave?) the President said.

Mr. Panelo said during the briefing that the economic relationship between the two governments is one of the major reasons why the President is being “very careful” in dealing with issues related to the West Philippine Sea.

Siyempre, dahil magkakaibigan nga tayo eh,” (he is cautious because of the friendship between the two countries), Mr. Panelo said.

Asked to what extent the President will protect Philippine-China relations, he said: “Depende. Di ba sinasabi ni Presidente, ‘Kapag mayroong assault – assault haat mayroong nasaktan sa mga Pilipino, aba’y hindi ako papayag.’ Hindi ba sinabi niya? (It will depend if there’s assault. I will not stand for Filipinos getting hurt) ‘Makikipaggiyera ako sa inyo kahit na talo ninyo ako.’ (I will wage war even if we lose) ‘Di ba, klaro naman iyon eh. (Wasn’t he clear?) But I don’t think that it will come to that precisely because… he’s very smart.”

Mr. Panelo also said that it is “wrong” to assume that the Chinese government had anything to do with the June 9 collision at Recto Bank involving two “private” vessels.

“I was telling the Senate President, I think what started the whole confusion and fracas is because iyong mga kritiko or pati rin kayo siguro assumed na iyong Chinese vessel is owned by the Chinese government (The critics or maybe even you journalists maybe assumed that the Chinese vessel is owned by the Chinese government) and kaya tayo nag rereact, ang dating ay itong Chinese government na ito ang bumangga rito eh (which is why people reacted that way, because it seemed the Chinese government was behind the collision). Private eh. Bakit sinasama kasi natin ang Chinese government, isasama lang natin ang Chinese government kung wala silang ginagawa na gawing accountable iyong Chinese vessel (It was a private boat. Why are people dragging in the Chinese government? The Chinese government should only be brought up if it does nothing to hold the Chinese vessel accountable),” he said.

Mr. Panelo said there is a mutual agreement between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Duterte that China will not interfere with Filipino fishermen in disputed waters.

“There was that agreement, mutual agreement… na…okay na mag-fish ang Pilipino doon sa disputed areas (that it was all right for Filipinos to fish in disputed areas),” he said.

He added, “The agreement from what I gather is, hindi nila papakialaman iyong mga fishermen natin doon (they will not interfere with our fishermen).”

He said the government will still enforce the law on Chinese nationals that illegally enter Philippine waters.

“Then we will enforce the law. If it’s unlawful for them to enter, then we will enforce the law,” he said. — Arjay L. Balinbin