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Duterte diffident on China in SONA

MANILA (UCAN): In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered on July 22 at the Batasang Pambansa Complex, in Quezon City, Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, insisted the West Philippine Sea belonged to his country, but defended his agreement to allow Chinese fishermen to operate in the area, saying it was not a constitutional violation. 
The South China Morning Post reported him as saying he made the agreement with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to ensure there would be no war in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte, who famously promised during his presidential campaign in 2016 that he would personally ride a jet ski to the West Philippine Sea to assert Philippine sovereignty, revealed that he had asked Xi to allow Filipino fishermen to work in the country’s exclusive economic zone in return for which he would allow Chinese fishermen to operate in the area.
“If you want marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, not one of them will come home alive,” the South China Morning Post reported him as saying.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, lambasted Duterte’s “unpatriotic and cowardly stance” on the South China Sea dispute.
He said the Philippines should take a “tougher stand” against China.
The Promotion of Church People’s Response, an influential ecumenical lay organization, said it was “outraged” by the government’s “feebleness and impotence” in protecting the country’s sovereignty.
Outside the venue, protesters braved the rain as they marched in the streets of Manila condemning China’s intrusion into Philippine territory as well as what they described as widespread rights abuses.
Priests, nuns, and seminarians joined advocates calling for Duterte’s impeachment.
The president’s speech, which lasted for almost two hours, tackled various other issues, including his government’s war against narcotics, corruption and the re-introduction of the death penalty.
Duterte boasted that the poverty fell from 27.6 per cent in the first half of 2015 to 21 per cent in 2018, a period taking in the first half of his six-year term.
The president said the goal of his administration in the next three years is a “comfortable life” for all Filipinos.
Church leaders, however, said the Philippines is experiencing “the most trying period in the nation’s history” under Duterte.
“A vision of a country where peace and justice reigns, sovereignty is cherished and human rights are upheld ... has been sliding into oblivion,” said the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum.
The leaders of various Churches said the Philippines is “in crisis and it’s not only social and political, but also moral and spiritual.”
They said, “The regression of our country’s democracy, the emboldenment of a tyrannical regime and the oppression of the people are fueling a national catastrophe.” 
They added that the people are “summoned to muster courage and rediscover collective responsibility” for the nation’s welfare.
“We must not cower against evil, but instead stand up against it,” they added.
“We must speak out for positive change and genuine reforms to regain our country’s democracy, restore our people’s freedom and rebuild our nation,” they said.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, head of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, called on the president to “heed the cry of the Filipino people and rely on the truth.”
Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches said the international community should look into what he described as the “silent persecution” of the Philippine people.
“Please come. Come and see the country and observe the silent persecution that is happening against the people and the Church,” the bishop, who celebrated a Mass for Truth attended by activists and protesters before the SONA, said.
Bishop Tobias was one of three Catholic bishops charged with sedition and libel last week for allegedly linking the president’s family to the illegal drugs trade (see page 6).
The bishop said Church leaders are being persecuted even as they do their best to help families of victims of drug-related killings.
He pointed out that when Duterte came to power in 2016 he promised to get rid of the drug problem. “After three years, the number of drug users increased and many have died,” the bishop said.
“It is the Church that is looking after those who survived the killings, giving them a chance to lead a new life,” Bishop Tobias said.
One of Duterte’s promises during the SONA was to reinstate capital punishment for heinous crimes, a move opposed by Church groups.
“We have not learned our lesson,” Duterte said. “Drugs will continue unless corruption is eliminated. We have a long way to go against this social menace.”
The death penalty bill faced strong opposition from senators during the last Congress. The House of Representatives, however, passed the proposed measure.

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