West PH Sea issue unlikely to become an election issue, says Panelo

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo expressed doubt that people will consider the issue of the West Philippine Sea in choosing the next President during the 2022 national elections.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo (Malacañang/Manila Bulletin)

Panelo made the statement days after Malacañang rejected suggestions that the Philippine government should take a multilateral approach in dealing with China on the issue of the disputed waters.

In an interview with One News's "The Chiefs," the Palace official downplayed speculations that the topic on the West Philippine Sea will be one of the major election issues for next year.

He said the public was more likely to focus on issues that hit closer to home.

"Issue ng Pilipino yung sa tiyan niya. Sa tiyan, yung bakuna ngayon, yung maliligtas ang buhay niya (The issue of the Filipino is his stomach. His stomach, the vaccines, the things that can save his life)," he said on Tuesday.

"Yung talagang sa lamesa ang pag-uusapan (The things that will bring food to the table)," he added.

Panelo claimed he saw a survey that showed the topics that Filipinos are most interested in.

"Corruption is number one, tapos environment, tapos human rights (next is environment and followed by human rights)," he said.

"Tinignan ko yung West Philippine Sea, two percent lang, eh. Hindi interesado yung mga sinurvey. Kasi kumbaga abstract yun, eh (I looked at West Philippine Sea, it only got two percent. The respondents of the survey were not interested because it is abstract)," he added.

On Monday, May 24, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte's approach on the issue of the West Philippine Sea has been working since no part of the country's territory was taken by China since he took office.

"The President po is the lone architect of foreign policy. Hindi po totoo na hindi gumagana ang ating bilateral talks to the West Philippine Sea (It's not true that our bilateral talks about the West Philippine Sea are not working)," he said.

"Matapos po ang halos limang taon ng termino ng Presidente, wala po tayong nawalang teritoryo sa China, wala po tayong hidwaan sa China (In the past five year's of the President's term, we didn't lose part of our territory to China nor we had a conflict with China)," he added.

The issue on the West Philippine Sea resurfaced following the recent incursion of Chinese vessels in the area. Last week, President Duterte said he will no longer react to his critics and ordered his Cabinet to refrain from talking about the issue with anybody.