MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is ready for China’s anticipated sanctions following its decision to question a territorial dispute with the economic giant before an international arbitral tribunal, a Palace official said on Tuesday, April 1.
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras also told ANC’s Headstart that “everybody knows” Beijing is not fond of President Benigno Aquino III – who has taken a strong position on the West Philippine Sea dispute – and may be either waiting for him to step down in 2016 or is already making life difficult for him during his term.
Almendras made the statement when asked about sanctions that the Philippines may face after it filed its historic pleading against China’s claims on the West Philippine Sea.
Asked if he believed China would go to the extent of funding the communist insurgency as an indirect sanction on the Aquino administration, as suggested by former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III, Almendras said, “Hard to answer.”
But he later added, as a general statement on possible sanctions from China, “I guess everybody knows they don’t like President Aquino so they either wait for 2016 or they’re trying make life hard for him while he’s still around.”
“Have you read what they write about the President? They use some really nasty names,” Almendras said with a laugh, but did not elaborate. He was apparently referring to critical commentaries against Aquino in China’s state-owned media.
Almendras, who was energy secretary prior to his current appointment, allayed fears that China may sabotage the country’s power supply through the National Grid Corp of the Philippines (NGCP), which is 40% owned by the State Grid of China.
He said he was “aware of the problem.” When he headed the Department of Energy, Chinese patrol boats harassed a Philippine exploration vessel in Reed Bank, which is within Philippine boundaries.
“We had already put in place certain mechanisms and shall we say, the safety features to protect our interest [in the NGCP]. If they put it [the power] off, we can put it back on,” Almendras said.
He said while China owns 40% of NGCP, 60% is owned by Filipinos “who are very supportive and believe in Philippine sovereignty over other issues.”
“There have been discussions with them, plans with them and actual technical interventions in certain cases which we put in place when I was still Secretary of Energy,” the Palace official said.
Almendras also eased concerns over China’s feared introduction of viruses to the country’s telecommunications system through Chinese suppliers.
“There have been discussions about our telcos being very dependent on certain suppliers. They have had third party evaluation from other groups other than the supplier to make sure that they are also equally protected. They are also having preparations,” he said.
Almendras said that Palace officials have discussed the possible consequences of the move, which may include trade and immigration sanctions.
“There probably are trade sanctions, there probably are immigration sanctions and visas. A whole bunch of potential actions was discussed. And this is not new because even before the filing…China was saying this and saying that. Admittedly, there were such indirect threats as you may want to call it but the President believes in resolving things,” he said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei had earlier called on the Philippines to “avoid further damage to bilateral relations.”
When the Philippines had a stand off with China at Scarborough Shoal in 2012, China imposed restrictions on banana imports from the Philippines, which threatened the local banana industry, but shipments have since normalized.
Almendras downplayed the economic impact of similar trade sanctions on the Philippines by one of its biggest trading partners.
“China benefits more from us. They export a lot more from us than we export to them. We send more tourists to them than they send tourists to us. If is unfortunate if such actions happen but at the end of the day, the President has to make these decisions in the light of what is right for the Philippines,” he said.
On calls to boycott China-made products if China imposes trade sanctions on the Philippines, Almendras said the President is not a “knee jerk” leader.
“We have been reasonable. The President is not a knee jerk [leader]. He will not let emotions dictate his actions….The President is very cool, he’s not going to be emotional. He’s not a tooth-for-a-tooth kind of [leader]. At the end of the day, he says, What would be good for the Filipino people, what would be good for the country?” he said.
Open to dialogue
Almendras reiterated that the President is open to continuing dialogue with China, even after the Philippines had filed the pleading.
“I can tell you with a straight face, the President never closed his door to China. In every step of the way, the President has always been available to whoever they sent, whoever they talked to. The President has to look after the interest of the country,” he said.
Asked if China has sent people to discuss the matter with Palace officials, he said, “There have been people who have been talking for and in behalf of China. China has friends in the country. I mean that both as good and as bad. We need to be aware of these things. I know for a fact that the President never closed his door on them."
"And that’s not just China, that’s true with the MILF, MNLF, CPP-NPA,” Almendras said, enumerating the country's former and existing rebel groups. – Mia Gonzalez/Rappler.com