Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s recent declaration that the Philippines will one day thank the Chinese government for building the artificial islands in the contested parts of the West Philippine Sea drew flak from the country’s foremost maritime expert.
Dr. Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS) described Secretary Roque’s statement as “outlandish” and evidence that the Duterte administration and its ranking officials are indifferent to the possible risks that these artificially-built islands and facilities pose to the country’s maritime rights and resources.
“One day, the government claims that there is nothing that it can do about China’s activities and facilities; the next day, it claims to remain with ASEAN in expressing concern over militarization and reclamation; the following day, it says that we will one day thank China for these islands if we can get China to leave,” Batongbacal said.
The UP professor pointed out that the apparent conflict in these positions “at best demonstrate the administration’s utter and total lack of concern and understanding about the nation’s greatest national security challenge.”
“It does not have any plan or strategy; it is just bluffing and making things up as it goes along,” Batongbacal stressed. “At worst, it is a preview of how it will, in the future, deceptively spin its incremental surrender of the country’s maritime rights and jurisdictions.”
He emphasized that China’s decision to seize, take over and militarize these contested features in the West Philippines Sea “is like having your rich neighbor post a heavily armed guard next to your gate because that neighbor is afraid of your relatives.”
“He doesn’t let you come near the guard, which means you can’t use much of your front yard, although you can still pass through the gate,” Batongbacal said. “He assures you that the guard is not directed at you, but does not care about you and your family even if he starts shouting or pointing his guns when your relatives visit or pass by. And as days pass, he adds guards, installs machine guns, places a tank, and regularly sends motorcycle goons by your gate, so that at any time he can close that gate. Your family feels threatened by the guns, is afraid to be in the yard, and gets nervous every time they pass the gate.”
“Each day he does so he assures you that he has no problem with you, and promises you candy or money to placate the members of your family; sometimes he even gives a little of it. Will you even think of thanking your neighbor?” he added.
According to Batongbacal, if the Philippine government thinks that it can not do anything about the current situation in the West Philippine Sea, how can it get China to leave and how can the country be one with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in expressing concern.
“Filipinos don’t want war, it’s true,” he said. “But I don’t think Filipinos want to look like idiots and cowards, either.”
Batongbacal said he expects Roque to later explain his statement about thanking China for its island-building in the West Philippine Sea as “merely a joke.”
“But then I guess that’s what President Rodrigo Duterte thinks of these issues: it’s all a joke,” he stated.
Roque earlier said that there will come a time when the Filipino people will have to thank their neighbor for building those islands.
“Clearly, eventually, those artificial islands will be ours if we can ask China to leave,” the Presidential Spokesperson said.