Feb. 5 (UPI) — Critics of Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday the Philippine president is not doing enough to push back on Chinese activities in the South China Sea, after local press reported China is nearing the complete militarization of the Spratly Islands.
An opposition party politician, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, said Duterte should not “stand idly by” as Beijing claims disputed islands and completes the militarization of territory, The Inquirer reported.
“What makes a country? Aside from the recognition of its neighbors, a country is defined by its territory and the people in that territory, and its ability to defend its territory and people. Thus, it is the government’s sacred core duty to protect its territory on behalf of its people,” Pangilinan said in a statement. “That’s why we are deeply troubled that instead of expressing outrage, Malacañang displayed a nonchalant attitude in playing down China’s militarization of the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.”
Pangilinan’s comments come after Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Manila wants to maintain “close ties” with Beijing, despite China’s unilateral actions in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ Sun Star reported Monday.
“This militarization — if you can call it militarization — did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized. And the question is, ‘What can we do? What did the past administration do and what can we do?'” he said.
“We cannot declare war, not only is it illegal but because also, it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point.”
Roque also said his administration trusts Beijing to act in good faith, according to the Sun Star.
“We expect that China, being not just a member of the United Nations but also a permanent member of the Security Council, will adhere to the prohibition on the use of force,” Roque said.
The Duterte administration has done little to oppose China’s constructions of hangars, lighthouses and several buildings across Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs or islands since the president assumed office.
Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino challenged China’s reclamation of the Spratly Islands in January 2013, and although the international tribunal at The Hague ruled in the Philippines’ favor in 2016, China has pursued its controversial buildup in the area.