Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday said the Philippine government should not compromise the country’s claim on the West Philippine Sea in exchange for the COVID-19 vaccines to be given by China.
At the third hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the government’s vaccination program, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez said the Philippines should set aside its differences with China on the West Philippine Sea as the country joins the global community in the race to put a stop to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this pandemic, the global interest of the global commons is really to save humanity. All countries rallied to support each other, so that’s the context that we are looking at, but every country wanted to help in our global pandemic,” Galvez said during the hearing.
“Yung tinatawag nating differences on the West Philippine Sea should be set aside because this is a global pandemic,” he said.
But Hontiveros rejected Galvez’ statement and told the committee she is surprised to hear the vaccine czar making such pronouncements.
“Medyo nagulat ako sa sinabi na (I’m a bit surprised when he said) ‘set aside our differences in the West Philippine Sea…Hindi porke’t bibili tayo ng Chinese vaccines o tatanggap tayo ng donasyon at regalo mula sa Tsina ay isasantabi na natin ang ating mga karapatan at teritoryo sa (Just because we are buying Chinese vaccines or accepting their donation, we will be setting aside our rights and our territory in the (West Philippine Sea),” Hontiveros pointed out.
“Up until now, despite the international community collectively rejecting China’s claims on our seas, China remains resolute in asserting unrightful ownership of our territories,” she lamented.
Pressed by Hontiveros, Galvez clarified that the government “will not compromise its stake in the West Philippine Sea.” The vaccine czar insisted that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will make sure that the selection of the COVID-19 vaccines that would be used for the government’s massive vaccination plan would be science-based.
But Hontiveros said Galvez should assure the public that we will continue to assert the country’s national interest and that this is not conceded in the name of China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy.”
“I’m simply asking for a reassurance na hindi natin babawasan ang ating pagtaguyod ng ating national interest sa (that it will not diminish our national interest in the) West Philippine Sea, kahit dito sa usapin sa pagbili ng vaccine sa Tsina (even in the negotiations regarding the procurement of Chinese vaccines),” she said.
She said that the public’s seeming low confidence in China-made vaccines may not only be due to the opaqueness of the data and information on Chinese vaccines, but also because of China’s “vaccine diplomacy” that could force countries to defer to its demands.
The senator added that the government should be able to tackle many issues at the same time.
“Our country can continue to occupy several platforms at the same time. Yung platform natin sa global partnership against COVID-19, lalo na through COVAX, at yung platform na napanalunan natin sa The Hague. I don’t think one is exchangeable for the other and we are within our rights na patuloy na i-advance yung ating common at saka national interests on both those platforms,” she stressed.