No compromising claim on West Philippine Sea in vaccine talks with China — Galvez

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
No compromising claim on West Philippine Sea in vaccine talks with China � Galvez
Screen grab shows vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. attending a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the national vaccination program on Jan. 22, 2021.
Screen grab / Senate of the Philippines YouTube page

MANILA, Philippines — Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday assured that he would not compromise the country's rights to the West Philippine Sea in negotiations with China but also said the differences between the two countries should be "set aside."

Galvez, a retired general of the Philippine Army, said this amid continued questioning from senators over the government's decision to purchase 25 million doses of vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech despite the lack of conclusive data on its efficacy.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros noted fears, held both in the Philippines and abroad, that China is deploying vaccine diplomacy — or using access to its vaccines — to force other countries to bend to its will.

Given this, she asked Galvez partially in Filipino: "Can we assure the public that we will continue to assert our national interest, for example, in the West Philippine Sea and that it will not be exchanged in any kind of diplomacy just to be able to buy vaccines from China?"

Beijing has long refused to acknowledge an arbitral ruling that junks its claims over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.

Initially, Galvez said he believed the differences between the two countries "should be set aside," citing the global solidarity in the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after Hontiveros expressed alarm at his answer and repeated her question, Galvez clarified that he would "not compromise our state." He also assured that the government's selection of vaccines to acquire is based on science and "the recommendations of the vaccine expert panel."

The senator emphasized that the Philippines "can continue to occupy several platforms at the same time," noting that its interests in the West Philippine Sea and in global partnerships for the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable.

"We are within our rights to continue to advance our common and national interests on both those platforms," she said in Filipino and English.

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