Pro­test­ers dis­rupt Duterte’s In­de­pen­dence Day speech

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

A GROUP of left-wing ac­tivists heck­led and dis­rupted a tele­vised In­de­pen­dence Day speech Tues­day by the Philip­pine pres­i­dent and called him a “traitor” amid crit­i­cism of his han­dling of ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte briefly halted his speech dur­ing the com­mo­tion and calmly watched from a his­toric bal­cony in Kawit town south of Manila as po­lice pulled the pro­test­ers away. He asked law en­forcers to deal with the pro­test­ers “with max­i­mum tol­er­ance” as the au­di­ence, which in­cluded am­bas­sadors, waited.

“Just let them ...our con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees free­dom of the press, free­dom of assem­bly and ex­pres­sion,” Duterte said as the small but rowdy group of young pro­test­ers yelled, “Oust Duterte,” ‘’Traitor,” and “Fas­cist.”

The pres­i­dent later re­sumed his speech, which fo­cused on his bat­tle against il­le­gal drugs, cor­rup­tion and terrorism, in the house in Cavite prov­ince where Philip­pine in­de­pen­dence from Spain was de­clared on June 12, 1898.

“We may not un­der­stand each other, but at least there is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, and that is love of coun­try,” Duterte said. “Nobody, but nobody, can ever ques­tion my love for the coun­try.”

Duterte has come un­der fire from crit­ics who say he has been far too soft on China over con­tested South China Sea ter­ri­to­ries. Of­fi­cials say his close en­gage­ment with China has fos­tered talks over the long-seething dis­putes and won Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture funds, trade and in­vest­ment.

Crit­ics, how­ever, said Duterte’s ap­proach has fur­ther em­bold­ened China with its in­creas­ingly assertive ac­tions in one of the world’s busiest wa­ter­ways. They cited re­ports that Chi­nese coast guard of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly boarded Philip­pine fish­ing boats and taken their fish catch in re­cent months at dis­puted Scar­bor­ough Shoal, which was seized by China from the Philip­pines af­ter a tense stand­off in 2012.

China al­lowed Filipinos to re­turn and fish at Scar­bor­ough af­ter Duterte rekin­dled re­la­tions with Bei­jing af­ter he took of­fice in 2016.

“It is a com­plete for­eign pol­icy dis­as­ter . ... It be­trays our he­roes’ strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence against for­eign colonis­ers,” op­po­si­tion Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros cited Duterte’s re­fusal to de­mand im­me­di­ate Chi­nese com­pli­ance with a 2016 ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing that in­val­i­dated China’s vast claims to the South China Sea and up­held the Philip­pines’ sovereign rights to vast stretches of wa­ters.

On the side­lines of the Kawit cer­e­mony, Duterte briefly dis­cussed the Chi­nese coast guard’s re­ported ac­tions against Filipino fishermen with Chi­nese Ambassador Zhao Jian­hua, who later told re­porters that Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the re­ports.

If the re­ports are true, “let’s view it as an iso­lated in­ci­dent,” Zhao said, adding that such in­ci­dents should not af­fect the im­proved ties be­tween the Asian neigh­bours.

“If we have bad ap­ples, you know what I’m go­ing to do? I’m go­ing to throw them into the South China Sea and feed the fish,” Zhao said in jest.

“China has made ap­pro­pri­ate ar­range­ment for the Philip­pine fishermen to fish in rel­e­vant wa­ters out of good­will,” the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Manila said in a state­ment. “This pol­icy re­mains un­changed.”

Malaysia, Viet­nam, Tai­wan and Brunei also claim the South China Sea partly or in its en­tirety. Ten­sions es­ca­lated in re­cent years af­ter China turned seven dis­puted reefs into islands that ri­val claimants fear could be used as a spring­board for its mil­i­tary to for­tify its claims. – AP

Photo: AP

Pro­test­ers are roughed up by plain­clothes po­lice af­ter heck­ling Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte at the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite prov­ince, Philip­pines, on Tues­day.

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