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Chinese vaccines, investments keeping Duterte mum on ships in Julian Felipe Reef â fisherfolk
This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

Chinese vaccines, investments keeping Duterte mum on ships in Julian Felipe Reef — fisherfolk

(Philstar.com) - April 8, 2021 - 2:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Strong statements by Cabinet officials on the presence of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef would be put to waste if President Rodrigo Duterte remains mum about it, a fisherfolk group said Thursday.

The ships in the area were first spotted on March 7, and have remained there despite calls for Beijing to withdraw and the Philippines vowing a diplomatic protest "for every day of delay" in leaving.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. have since issued strongly worded statements over the incident, but the public has not directly heard any so far from the president.

“China’s vaccine diplomacy and economic investments seem to clamp a gag order on President Duterte about the sea row," said Bobby Roldan, vice chairperson of the group Pamalakaya in a statement. "Instead of exhausting all diplomatic, political, and legal means to assert our sovereignty, Mr. Duterte has chosen to set it all aside in the name of a one-sided friendly relations with China."

In a Palace briefing on April 6, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque quoted Duterte as saying that government will resolve the issue "through diplomatic channels and peaceful means."

The issue of Chinese ships in the reef, however, has noticeably not made it into the president's weekly public address. In it, he touches on several issues from time to time such as hitting critics or discussing his anti-illegal drug campaign.

In a March 25, statement, Pamalakaya also urged government to ensure the safety of Filipino fishers who frequent the reef, which is part of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.

They said members from Palawan, Batangas and Mindoro have raised fear in returning there to fish, especially with a legislation passed by Beijing that would allow its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels in their claimed territories.

Locsin in a Twitter post on Wednesday reiterated the country's stand for the vessels to leave. It came as China's foreign ministry denied that it has plans to put up a permanent presence in the reef, which Lorenzana had said.

"Then tell them to move out," the foreign affairs chief wrote. "If they're really fishing, the fish are all gone; they're just fouling the water with waste. Nobody fishes by lashing ships together." — Christian Deiparine

DELFIN LORENZANA DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE PAMALAKAYA RODRIGO DUTERTE TEODORO LOCSIN JR WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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