By Junex Doronio
March 24, 2021
MANILA — Short of saying the timing is suspect, Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday pointedly asked if the presence of hundreds of Chinese militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea was a sort of an exchange deal as he noted that it occurred days after the Covid-19 vaccines from China were delivered.
“Did we barter marine resources in WPS (West Philippine Sea) for vaccine? This is the question many Filipinos are asking in the wake of the newest Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea,” Rodriguez said.
Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio on Wednesday also warned that China might seize the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
“The way I look at it, this is a prelude to occupying Julian Felipe Reef, just like what they did to Mischief Reef in 1995. They started [by] saying they just built a fishermen shelter on Mischief Reef. Now, Mischief Reef is their air and naval base, they call it their ‘Pearl Harbor’ in the South China Sea,” Carpio said in an interview with ANC.
China, which denied the presence of militia vessels in the area, asserted that the reef — which they call Niu’e Jiao — was part of Chinese territory.
It also claimed that the reef was traditionally used as a shelter by the Chinese vessels during inclement weather.
But Carpio quickly debunked China’s claim, saying “no storm was anywhere near Julian Felipe Reef.”
Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday said it stood with the Philippines, in its concerns over the gathering of China’s ‘maritime militia’ vessels near Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea, urging Beijing to stop such actions.
“We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China on March 21, a move backed by the United States.
China’s diplomatic mission in Manila on Tuesday assailed the US’ support for the protest, reiterating that the latter is not a party to the maritime dispute.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Roa Duterte plans to talk to the Chinese ambassador about China’s latest incursion in the West Philippine Sea.
But Roque did not say when. (AI|MTVN)