Palace asserts diplomacy is an exception to freedom of information
Photos released by the Philippine Coast Guard taken from April 13 to 14 show Chinese vessels remain at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
Release/Philippine Coast Guard

Palace asserts diplomacy is an exception to freedom of information

(Philstar.com) - April 15, 2021 - 4:31pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration does not need to announce its diplomatic dealings with Beijing to the public as diplomacy is not covered by freedom of information, the Palace said Thursday, maintaining its soft stance towards tensions in the West Philippine Sea. 

At a press briefing Thursday afternoon, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the public should just allow the president — who has yet to speak out on the issue let alone acknowledge it — to privately address the 240 Chinese vessels still moored in the territorial waters of Kalayaan, Palawan. 

"Diplomacy is an exemption to freedom of information. Whatever the president is doing, let's just allow him to do that privately. The public doesn't need to know the diplomatic initiatives on the part of the president. Needless to say, it's covered by exemption because the president must make the right decision no matter what," Roque said in mixed Filipino and English when asked if the president planned on acting on the continued presence of Chinese ships in the area. 

"I can't say when they'll leave. We hope our close friendship will be the reason they decide to leave later on," Roque added when asked when the Chinese ships will leave the reef. 

Although "privileged information relating to national security, defense or international relations" is indeed listed as an exemption to freedom of information in the government's manual, it is not at all true that the public does not need to know about the administration's response to the rising tensions. 

It is worth noting that this is also the second question Roque dodged and left unanswered this week after he claimed that queries over his easy access to a hospital bed at the Philippine General Hospital — from where he broadcasted his briefing Thursday — were "un-Christian." 

In photos: Chinese coast guard, maritime militia ships remain in Julian Felipe Reef

Despite opposite approaches from lawmakers and the Department of National Defense, the chief executive has maintained a docile stance towards China for the better part of his term as president, earlier asserting that he cannot do anything on the maritime dispute as doing so would mean going to war with them.

Thus far, his only statement on the territorial row was that it would "not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation in the pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation and in post-pandemic economic recovery."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin earlier filed a series of diplomatic protests against China and summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian over the Julian Felipe Reef situation.

His Department of Foreign Affairs has said that both sides agreed to lower the tensions and "handle the issue diplomatically" but Beijing still refuses to withdraw its ships in the West Philippine Sea to date.

To this day, Beijing continues to reject the arbitral ruling that the Philippines won in The Hague in 2016 based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which held that China's sweeping nine-dash line claim has no legal basis.

"Let's leave the president to his devices. He has shown in the past five years of his administration that we have moved from a position of antagonism to China to a position of friendship, and we have benefited greatly from this," Roque said. 

RELATED: Philippines is 'the lead in the South China Sea disputes,' Locsin claims

 Franco Luna with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio and Patricia Lourdes Viray 

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