MANILA, Apr 16 (Mabuhay) — Malacañang on Thursday asked the public to let President Rodrigo Duterte settle in a private manner the issue of China’s supposed incursions into the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In a virtual presser, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said diplomatic negotiations fall under the list of exceptions to Executive Order (EO) 2, also known as the Freedom of Information.

“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),” Roque said.

On Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed two diplomatic notes against China amid the prolonged presence of its vessels in WPS despite the Philippines’ repeated demands to withdraw its ships.

The first diplomatic note counts as the daily protest so long as there are Chinese boats in and around Julian Felipe Reed in WPS, and the second is on the dispersal of Chinese ships to other parts of Philippine maritime zones.

Roque on Wednesday said the Philippines has stepped up its presence in WPS to protect Filipino fishermen and the marine resources.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday appealed to the Philippine government to stop “hyping up” the WPS issue and “producing a negative impact on bilateral relations and peace and stability” in the disputed sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in a press briefing on April 13, maintained that China sought “friendly consultations” to “jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

In his latest statement, Roque said the presence of Chinese vessels in WPS is a “statement of fact.”

Roque, however, expressed optimism that China would withdraw all of its ships in WPS, considering that it is the Philippines’ “friend.”

He added that the Philippines, as the current country coordinator for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-China Dialogue Relations, remains committed to work for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in WPS which envisions a set of regional rules to avoid confrontation in the contested waters.

“Hindi ko po masasabi iyan pero inaasahan po natin na ‘yung malapit na pagkakaibigan natin, magiging dahilan kung bakit sila ay aalis ng maaga kaysa nang mas matagal (I could not say when will the ships be withdrawn but we expect them to pull out its vessels earlier than expected because of our friendship),” he said.

Roque said he is also confident that Duterte would make a “right” decision.

“The President must make the right decision no matter what. So 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,” he said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday said it will continue the conduct of air and naval patrols of WPS to provide a firm basis for diplomatic protests filed by the country due to continued Chinese incursions in the area.

The DFA’s latest filing of diplomatic protests against China came following reports that around 240 Chinese vessels were sighted in the Julian Felipe Reef on April 11. (MNS)

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