Senators say WPS issues should be left to foreign affairs chief

Published May 12, 2021, 6:37 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Only one talking head, aside from the President, should be tasked to issue statements relating to the West Philippine Sea (WPS), lest officials make a mistake about their pronouncements.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. (PNA/File photo)

Senators gave the observation Wednesday, May 12, as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. issued a “last warning” and maintained that his department has the “exclusive remit” on matters of the country’s international relations.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed that Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef is not within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), even as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said otherwise.

Julian Felipe Reef is located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

“DFA Sec. Locsin is the voice I will listen to,” Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said in a text message.

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, also said the DFA should have the say over statements concerning issues in the WPS.

“The entire exec[utive] branch should follow a script, written by the DFA. Then choose talking heads carefully and limit them. Then form an elite team which will educate ‘all of us’ about the details of the WPS issues,” he said on Twitter.

“The names of the features, their status, the arbitral ruling details, etc. Sa dami ng names (international, Chinese, Philippines), figures (distances), facts (status of features) etc, one can really make a mistake. Hence better have a written guide,” he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said Malacañang should “stop lying” in its statements about the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.

“It is irresponsible for the Presidential Spokesperson to say that we have never been in possession of Julian Felipe Reef. Atat na atat yatang kumampi ang Palasyo sa Tsina (The Palace is really itching to get on China’s side),” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said that instead of asserting the Philippines’ sovereignty, the Palace is “taking the lead in giving away the country’s territory”.

Roque’s statement, she said, “also dishonors the statements of the DND, the reports of the NTF-WPS, the patrols of the PN (Philippine Navy), PCG (Philippine Coast Guard), and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), and the stories of our own fisherfolk.”

“And this goes against all the diplomatic protests lodged by the DFA, the main channel which our country must use to resolve disputes with foreign countries,” she added.

“Ang DFA ang dapat na nagmamando sa usapin sa WPS, hindi ang spokesperson ng (The DFA should lead the talks about the WPS, not the spokesperson of) Malacañang. As I’ve repeatedly said before, the Executive must have a clear, consistent, and firm national policy for meeting the challenge of Chinese aggression,” Hontiveros said.