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Manila’s envoy belies claim of inaction on China coast guard law

THE COUNTRY’S ambassador to China on Tuesday belied claims that he failed to block Beijing’s new law allowing its coast guard to fire at enemies in the South China Sea.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sto. Romana told a televised news briefing his office had filed two reports — when the Chinese law was still being deliberated and when it got passed.

The Chinese law allows its coast guard to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

Senator Francis N. Tolentino earlier said the Senate should summon Mr. Romana to explain why the Philippine Embassy in China seemed to have failed to protest the law, which was allegedly railroaded before the National People’s Congress in March.

“Through the objection, diplomatic note and discussion, the Chinese tried to reassure us they would still exercise restraint,” Mr. Sto. Romana said.

China had said it was “not targeting the Philippines or any specific country and that they will not resort to force in the first instance.”

In a statement on Monday, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said President Rodrigo R. Duterte should seek P230 billion in damages from China for destroying the sea instead of demanding payment from the US in exchange for a visiting forces agreement.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque blamed President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno S.C. Aquino, Jr. for allegedly failing to seek justice from China.

“Everything that China did happened during the administration of President Aquino,” he told the same briefing in Filipino. “President Aquino’s government should have acted to get justice for our nation.”

The government under Mr. Aquino sued China before an international tribunal to push its claim in the disputed waterway and won. In 2016, the arbitration court favored the Philippines, invalidating China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea.

Mr. Duterte last week said the US should pay in exchange for the Philippines keeping the military pact. Mr. Roque on Monday said the payment could be used in the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

American troops were “slowly converting Subic into an American base,” Mr. Duterte said in a televised speech on Monday night, citing reports from the Philippine military.

“These are the things that are known to us because I have the reports and I have also the assessments given to me by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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