Banners that declared that the Philippines was a province of China went up on several footbridges in Metro Manila, mocking the government on the second anniversary of the UN tribunal decision that favored the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
The red banners, bearing the words “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” both in English and Chinese characters, were hanging from several pedestrian overpasses in Quezon City and Makati and near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1.
In a conference to commemorate the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said the banners were an exercise of free speech.
“In our experience, in previous administrations, it’s when the people begin to be like that—jovial and joking about the administration—that signals a loss of support and respect,” Carpio said at the forum.
Jay Bitangcol, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, agreed with Carpio, saying the banners were a form of protest.
But Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque dismissed the actions as absurd.
“I’m sure it’s the enemies of our government behind it. So to them, try again, you need a better gimmick than that,” he said.
Asked whether there was some truth to what the banners imply, Roque said, “Certainly none. We continue to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights. But we are decided to move on issues which are non-controversial because we know that the final resolution, particularly on the issues of sovereignty on the disputed islands, will take many, many, many years to resolve since this was not a subject of the arbitral ruling that we won two years ago.”
Roque emphasized that the tarpaulins were meant to be provocative.
“They are obviously propagating a lie that we have given up on our national territory. It’s farthest from the truth. The President has said, again and again, that we will stand for what is right until the issue is resolved, let us move forward with our relations with China on things that we can potentially move forward with especially in the economy,” Roque said.
Former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, however, said the government continues to be “a willing victim” of China.
According to Del Rosario, the government is abetting Beijing as it fails to enforce The Hague ruling two years after the country won the landmark case. (Full text of Del Rosario speech on B4)
Roque dismissed Del Rosario’s statement as obsolete.
“That is his view. I don’t know what makes him an authority to give that view and I’m not sure what they mean by enforcing an arbitral decision, because an arbitral decision is binding on parties thereto,” Roque said. “It clearly underscores the fact that some individuals including the former secretary of Foreign Affairs do not fully comprehend the nature of arbitration.”
The Quezon City government ordered the removal of the tarpaulins.
The Metro Manila Development Authority, meanwhile, formed a team to investigate and identify the people responsible in posting the tarpaulins.
The banners were seen hung on the footbridges located along Quezon Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, España Street near Welcome Rotunda in Manila, Circumferential Road 5 (C-5 Road)—Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City, and Airport Road near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.
The tarpaulins were posted in time for the second anniversary of the Philippines’ victory over China on a case decided by the international arbitration court. The message was written in both English and Mandarin and had a similar design and also bore the Chinese flag.
¨There are no CCTV [closed-circuit television] cameras installed in the areas and the banners were posted during wee hours. We are now coordinating with the local government units with the hope to identify those responsible,¨said MMDA general manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr.
Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay also posted a photo of another tarpaulin on social media and asked authorities to remove the banner that has sparked negative comments.
“It´s really not funny. On this day, July 12, we commemorate our victory in Philippines vs. China,” Hilbay said.
“Whatever the motives may be, it’s really not funny, especially on this particular day,” he said.
Hilbay led the country´s legal panel that protested China’s claims in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
In a decision released on July 12, 2016, The Hague-based tribunal “found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone” after the Asian giant interfered with Philippine fishing and oil exploration in the area, constructed artificial islands and allowed Chinese fishermen to fishing in the zone. With Rio N. Araja
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