Panelo clarifies 'be thankful' remarks on Beijing's rescue centers in disputed sea

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — After drawing flak for his recent remarks on Beijing's installment of a maritime rescue center on a Manila-claimed reef in the West Philippine Sea, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo clarified his stand on the matter.

The Malacañang spokesman was earlier quoted saying the country "should be thankful" as the center on Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef might be of service to everybody in the region.

"I said thankful on the assumption that one — it has informed the government and sought permission and... if that is not just a ruse 'yun pala gagawin na nila kung anu-ano," Panelo told reporters.

Panelo advised his critics, particularly Liberal Party president and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who pointed out that it was also the presidential mouthpiece who said it was alright for the Chinese to fish in the Spratly Islands.

"His every tone clearly manifests the language of a Chinese puppet," Pangilinan said.

Below are excerpts of Panelo's previous press briefing on the issue as posted on the website of the Presidential Communications Operations Office:

Reporter: Is Malacañang concerned about this or what will the government do about this recent development in the disputed water?

Panelo: Maybe we should be thankful. I share the sentiment of Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that, ‘that could help seamen in distress in that area.’ It can help everybody.’ Kaya the position of the Department of National Defense is it will do nothing because, helpful pa nga eh. It’s a distress center, ibig sabihin makakatulong iyon sa mga nangangailangan ng tulong in that region.

Reporter: And then why are you saying you are thankful. Almost as if you are basically confirming.

Panelo: No, when you say you are thankful, kung halimbawa naitayo na iyon at talagang tumutulong, eh dapat magpasalamat tayo sa mga kahit na ibang bansa na tumutulong sa ibang bansa din.

Reporter: And by saying that you’re thankful if, sinasabi n’yo nga, kung totoo na nag-build. Aren’t you worried that this might urges to China?

Panelo: I’ll be thankful for one, if they informed us initially.

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo Party-list) said Panelo's pronouncement that the Philippines should be thankful for the Chinese rescue center on Kagitingan Reef was an "act of surrender."

The opposition lawmaker pointed out that Beijing's recent actions in the West Philippine Sea is an "outright assertion of dominance."

"It is ironic to claim that we should be grateful for the establishment of a rescue center while we also say that we protest against anything that steps on our sovereignty," Alejano said in a statement.

Alejano also warned that the Chinese may also use the new facility to father intelligence in the area.

"It could be used to facilitate intelligence gathering and for faster deployment of Chinese military forces in the area they are illegally claiming," he said.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had urged the Philippine government to protest Beijing's establishment of a distress center on Kagitingan Reef.

Carpio pointed out that occupation and use of the artificial island are acts of sovereignty.

"An act of administration is an essential element in acquiring sovereignty. So, if we impliedly or expressly agree to such act of administration by China, we are helping China strengthen their sovereignty claim to Fiery Cross Reef to our own prejudice," Carpio said.

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