Research group IBON said that Pres. Duterte’s stance on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue, as expressed in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), is not about avoiding war with China, but is about avoiding offending the Chinese government and losing all its promised funds.
Last July 22, Pres. Duterte highlighted the possibility of China attacking the country if the government took a strong stance on its claims in the disputed WPS. According to the president, “more and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public”.
IBON, however, said that the administration is only using the possibility of war to conceal the agreements reached “in the privacy of a conference room” between the Philippine and Chinese governments which seem to be at the expense of the Filipino people’s interests.
IBON noted that while other claimants to the disputed area, like Vietnam and Indonesia, are taking a more aggressive stance to defend their claims, China has yet to declare war against these two countries. The group said that the administration should see this as an opportunity to foster unity between the Philippines and its other neighbors to defend their respective claims against China.
But the government is not doing this, nor is it asserting the July 2016 ruling of the international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that was in favor of the Philippines. The decision upheld the country’s rights over the 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The President instead has claimed to be proud of his friendship with China, IBON said. Rather than defend his fellowmen, he has insulted Filipino fishermen by implying that they should be thankful that Chinese Pres. Xi Jin Ping allowed them to fish in the WPS. He also reduced the ramming and sinking of the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 by a Chinese ship in June to “a mere incident”.
IBON said that the reason for the Duterte administration being overly accommodating is most likely due to its desire for Chinese financing. IBON estimates that the government is seeking as much as Php673.2 billion from China for its 75 flagship projects aside from Php204.7 billion more for infrastructure and other projects – for a total of Php877.9 billion.
According to the group, the terms of the loan agreements that the administration enters into with China for its infrastructure drive are onerous. These include only using China’s goods and services, including for payment of Chinese contractors and even hiring of Chinese workers; stringent loan payment schedules; contracts being explicitly governed and construed in accordance with the laws of China and disputes having to be settled in the courts of China; and the Philippines waiving its sovereign rights over its patrimonial assets in connection with any arbitration proceeding. The last is synonymous with the collateralization of the country’s assets, like natural and strategic resources.
IBON said that instead of being concerned with stepping on China’s toes and losing financing, the Duterte administration should implement a truly independent foreign policy. Such a policy should defend and uphold Philippine sovereignty, ensure domestic development, and prioritize the welfare of all Filipinos, said the group. ###