“God help the Philippines, because we are a sovereign country and only the Filipinos can determine or decide what they want to do and not any foreigner or foreign country,” Lacson said.
Geremy Pintolo
Senators on China's assurance to Duterte: 'God help the Philippines'
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If President Duterte could boast about China’s guarantee of protection and risk exposing his disregard for the will of the people, then “God help us,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday as he and his colleagues expressed shock and disbelief at the Chief Executive’s latest pronouncement.

“God help the Philippines, because we are a sovereign country and only the Filipinos can determine or decide what they want to do and not any foreigner or foreign country,” Lacson said.

His colleagues said it’s the support of the people – not China’s assurance of protection – that Duterte should count on in the face of possible ouster moves.

In separate statements, the senators said the President should accept the inevitability of ouster once the public loses trust in him for whatever reason.

In remarks Tuesday night, Duterte revealed that China’s president Xi Jinping had personally assured him of protection from ouster.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said no amount of backing from foreign governments could save a leader who has lost the support of his constituents.

“This government should rely on the support of its own people, and not on China or any other foreign government, to ensure a strong and effective administration,” said Pangilinan, who is president of the opposition Liberal Party.

“Shouldn’t we learn from the lessons of history? Marcos was ousted in 1986 despite the powerful backing of the US because the people wanted him out for failing to address widespread poverty and abuses in government while enriching himself and his family,” Pangilinan said.

“Like the US in 1986, China will abandon him as President if he loses the support of our citizens,” he added.

Pangilinan questioned the motive behind the President’s issuing such statement in the light of recent developments concerning relations between the two countries.

He cited the supposed lack of response from the Duterte administration to China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea as well as Manila’s securing Chinese loans that are said to be more expensive than those offered by Japan or South Korea.

“Is China support for this administration to ensure its iron clad grip on power? Whose interest is being pursued by depending on China? Is it the nation’s interest or the interest of those in power that is being pushed here?” Pangilinan said.

According to Pangilinan, the government would be better off addressing poverty, joblessness and ensuring that abuses, corruption and disregard of laws are checked if it wants to remain effective and responsive to the needs of the people.

Sen. Leila de Lima said China’s offer of protection to Duterte was not surprising at all, considering that he has “proven his loyalty to them at the expense of our country’s sovereignty.”

She noted how the current administration has turned a blind eye to China’s aggressive military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.

“By doing this, Duterte aided China to gain substantial military control in the fiercely contested and strategic maritime area in the region. Who would not protect such a valuable and devoted puppet?” De Lima said.

She said Duterte’s statement betrays his fear of being removed from office because he knows many of his policies, including the war on drugs and the moves to control democratic institutions such as the Supreme Court, are wrong.

“Word of advice Mr. President. No amount of bowing or subservience to China will save your presidency. Remember that the power of your office came from the sovereign will of the Filipino people whom you shamelessly betrayed by kowtowing to your foreign master. So, don’t blame them if they withdraw this mandate because of your treachery,” she said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, another critic of Duterte, said China does not have any power to stop a change in leadership, much less make such a promise to the President.

“But, more importantly, Duterte’s statement betrays his paranoia about the state of affairs in his own country. No one is trying to kick him out; he is doing the destabilizing all by himself,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he would rather hear from China on its support for the government’s war on drugs.

He noted that the bulk of illegal drugs in the country comes from China and that Beijing has the power to cut the supply if it wants to remain an ally of the Philippines.

“I would want to see their sincerity toward the nation itself and not just to the President,” Ejercito said.

Non-confrontational

But while the senators scoffed at Duterte’s gushing over Xi’s offer of protection, some of them said they don’t mind him keeping his non-confrontational stance against China on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Lacson and Sen. Gregorio Honasan, in separate interviews, said the Philippines could still lean on the ruling of The Hague-based arbitral tribunal debunking China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

They also said the government can still mobilize support from the international community and invoke its various security agreements with allies without being confrontational with China.

Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, cited the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, and the similar pacts with co-members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Any non-confrontational action by the President to assert our sovereignty and territorial integrity is welcome until we can develop more concrete negotiating leverage from our bilateral and multilateral security and economic engagements,” Honasan said.

Lacson said that while the Philippines cannot militarily confront China, it has the arbitral ruling on its side.

He said that based on history, countries that lost in rulings on territorial disputes eventually complied with arbitral decisions.

“What we need now is international pressure but under this administration there is no lobbying being done,” Lacson said. “While we cannot implement the ruling, at least, we should show we are exerting efforts to find allies to pressure China.”

Lacson and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III also defended Duterte’s move to assert the country’s sovereignty over the Philippine Rise.

“It was supposed to be a symbolic visit to the Philippine Rise which he did. So what’s the issue? That was a legitimate act of the President,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also suggested the Philippines forge a formal security treaty with China as Xi had assured Duterte that Beijing would protect the country from threats.

“Our relationship with the US is formalized in a series of treaties and we are not barred to have a treaty with China. So if the two leaders have expressed sentiments in that tenor, then maybe our foreign affairs department, our respective departments should pursue formalizing such an agreement,” Pimentel said. – With Marvin Sy

PANFILO LACSON RODRIGO DUTERTE XI JINPING
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