Critics hit 'Benham Rise' publicity stunt in Casiguran

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Critics hit 'Benham Rise' publicity stunt in Casiguran
Sec. Bong Go of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's son Sebastian prepare to ride jet skis around Casiguran Sound on May 15, 2018.
Presidential Photo / Robertson Niñal Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — The jet ski stunt of the president's son Sebastian Duterte and special assistant Bong Go through the waters of Casiguran, Aurora is an embarrassment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Sen. Leila de Lima said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the younger Duterte and Go rode jet skis in the waters of the jumpoff point to Benham or Philippine Rise. The stunt was described as an attempt to assert the country's claim over the undersea plateau and volcanic ridge.

Casiguran, however, is around 288 km away from the Philippine Rise, which is uncontested.

READ: Jet ski cruise through Philippine Rise moves closer to shore

De Lima described the jet ski show as "ridiculous," a "cheap political stunt" of a "Chinese puppet president" and a waste of taxpayers' money as naval and air resources were utilized.

"With no clear response yet on the Chinese missile threat, both choose to humor their commander-in-chief by obliging his son and sidekick to a ridiculous but expensive show. Not only is this misappropriation of AFP resources, it is a total waste of the people’s hard-earned money, including that of the soldiers and their families," De Lima said in a statement.

The detained senator pointed out that while Duterte is on a "propaganda whim," Filipino troops assigned on Pag-asa Island and Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea are being harassed by China's People's Liberation Army, which is backed by missiles and military aircraft on reclaimed islands.

De Lima called on the AFP to refrain from "embarrassing" themselves if the cannot give a proper response to the Chinese threat in the country's territories in the West Philippine Sea.

"The newest acquisitions of both the Navy and Air Force, the Tarlac-class sealift vessels and FA-50 lead-in fighter-trainer jets, are used and turned against the armed services to embarrass themselves before the whole world in a misdirected show of bravado," she said.

"The Chinese are already laughing hard at how they are pulling the strings on your puppet commander-in-chief. The least you can do is try not to be a party to your own shaming. Leave some respect for the AFP," De Lima added.

'PR stunt missed its target'

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list), meanwhile, said that Duterte's recent trip to Casiguran, Aurora failed to achieve its intended goal.

Alejano said that Duterte's presence in the Philippine Rise — the president had said he would sail to the area — would have sent a message to the world that Manila is determined to protect its territory.

Instead, Duterte's trip to coastal Casiguran merely appeared as a "PR stunt which missed its target, in both purpose and execution."

The jet ski stunt by the president's son and his assistant also lost its significance as the government refuses to respond to China's incursion in the West Philippine Sea.

“It is clear that Duterte tried to project an image that he is asserting our territorial rights. This plan failed because people can see through this administration’s foreign policy performances. Foreign policy is asserted through consistent actions with substance; not one and done public performances which do not actually contribute to the achievement of our national interests,” Alejano said.

The Magdalo lawmaker, however, acknowledged the importance of sending an all-Filipino team to conduct marine scientific research in the area.

“I laud the all-Filipino scientific team, which, in the conduct of their research, will be instrumental in the assessment of available resources in the area. The country would greatly benefit from their service,” Alejano said.

In his speech before sending the Filipino scientists off, Duterte announced that parts of the Philippine Rise will be declared a marine protected area.

The president announced that 50,000 hectares will become a strict protection zone limited to marine scientific studies while 300 hectares will be designated as a special fisheries management area.

RELATED: Duterte destabilizing himself, Trillanes says, after president boasts of China protection







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