Malacañang expressed optimism that the Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea will leave “soon” due to the close friendship between the Philippines and China.
“Inaasahan po natin na ‘yung malapit na pagkakaibigan natin, magiging dahilan kung bakit sila ay aalis ng maaga kaysa nang mas matagal (We expect that the close friendship will be the reason why they will leave sooner rather than later),” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a virtual presser on Thursday, April 15.
Around 220 vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel were first sighted at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7, based on a report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) first lodged a note verbale over the Chinese vessels on March 21. Since then, the presence of the Chinese ships has lessened until there were only 44 remaining at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 29.
However, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Tuesday, April 13, reported that it found 240 Chinese ships in various parts of the West Philippine Sea.
The vessels were reportedly “about sixty (60) meters in length” and can each catch “one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day.”
Roque appealed to the public to let President Rodrigo Duterte settle the issue in a “private manner.”
“Kung anuman ang ginagawa ng Presidente, hayaan na nating gawin niya ‘yun sa isang pribadong pamamaraan dahil hindi naman po dapat inaanunsiyo sa publiko kung ano ‘yung mga diplomatic initiatives at hakbang na ginagawa ng Pangulo (Whatever steps the president is taking, let him do it privately because it is not necessary to announce in public the diplomatic initiatives and other steps the president is doing),” he said.
The spokesman also stressed that the field of diplomacy is an exception to Executive Order (EO) 2, also known as the Freedom of Information.
“Let’s leave the President to his devices. Napakita naman po niya na (He’s able to prove that) so far, in the past five years of his administration, we have moved from a position of antagonism with China to a position of friendship,” said Roque.
He maintained that Duterte would make the “right” decision about the issue.
“The President must make the right decision no matter what,” Roque said.