West Philippine Sea won't be a major issue in 2022 elections â chief legal counsel
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

West Philippine Sea won't be a major issue in 2022 elections — chief legal counsel

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - May 26, 2021 - 5:51pm

MANILA, Philippines — The West Philippine Sea row may not become a major topic during the 2022 elections as voters are more interested in gut issues and their safety against the COVID-19 pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the maritime dispute with China, which the opposition claims is being mishandled by Duterte, is something "abstract" to voters.

"I think no because the issues of Filipinos are those that are closer to the gut, the vaccines, things that will save their lives," Panelo told the hosts of One News channel's current affairs program "The Chiefs" when asked if the maritime dispute would become a major issue during the 2022 polls.

Panelo said he has seen the results of a survey suggesting that people are not that interested in the West Philippine Sea issue, He did not provide other details about the poll, which he said was about a candidate.

Panelo claimed that critics have "twisted" Duterte's controversial comment that he would ride on a jetski and wave the Philippine flag in the West Philippine Sea. Duterte has described the remark as a "pure campaign joke."

"He (Duterte) was dramatizing it. Even if he meant that it is impossible, he would fight for the sovereignty of the country," Panelo said.

In 2016, a Hague-based arbitral tribunal invalidated China's expansive maritime claim in the West Philippine Sea and affirmed the Philippines' sovereign rights over its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. 

China has refused to recognize the ruling. Critics claim that Duterte is not doing enough to assert the Philippines' claims in the West Philippine Sea but Malacañang said there is no way to enforce the arbitral ruling unless there is a "collective security measure." Officials have insisted that the Philippines and China can pursue non-contentious areas of cooperation like trade despite the longstanding dispute.

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