By Daniel Llanto 

While China pledged to donate half a million doses of Sinovac vaccines to the Philippines, its  National People’s Congress also passed a law allowing its coast guard to shoot down foreign vessels in South China Sea, which may include Filipino fishing boats that regularly ply their trade on the disputed waters. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros thus warned the Department of National Defense (DND) against China’s “vaccine diplomacy” which she said may be used to advance its claim in the West Philippine Sea.

It was noted that the new law also gives the go signal for the Chinese coast guard to demolish structures built by other countries in its reefs, as well as “to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.”

In an online conference with reporters, Hontiveros said the Philippines should not allow China to “shake our hand” on vaccine deals but “stab us in the back” in the territorial dispute on the WPS.

She made the remark after China passed the Coast Guard Law last January 22 that authorizes its sea patrols to fire on foreign vessels and demolish structures of other states that were established in the disputed territories.

“It is not good to hear that China is passing this kind of law in the midst of a pandemic. While they are marketing their vaccines (for) ‘global public good’, they are dumping the peace remaining in the WPS. How (can we be sure) that the vaccines donated by China (was not meant for) something in return?” Hontiveros said. 

In attacking the new Chinese law, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, “we reject and do not recognize foreign laws that encroach on our territorial seas and exclusive economic zone.”

“Indonesia and Vietnam refuse to be intimidated,” Pangilinan added. “I adamantly refuse to believe that they are braver than we are and I firmly believe that ours is not a nation of cowards.”

Even Malacañang is not happy about the law.  Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the use of force is prohibited under international law.  

“The use of force is generally prohibited,” Roque told an online news briefing. “States may use force only in self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council.”

 “Hopefully, no country involved in the issue of the West Philippine Sea would worsen the situation,” he said, referring to parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.

Hontiveros urged the DND to monitor developments in the area, noting that China is “shoring up” its influence in the region.

Hontiveros said this development could harm efforts to solve the sea dispute through political and diplomatic means. 

Former Foreign Affairs sec. Albert del Rosario called on the Duterte administration to build a credible defense posture and strengthen its alliances with other countries in the light of the new Chinese law that would take effect starting February 1. 

“In the face of this new Chinese aggression, we should prioritize what we have been saying before: build a credible defense posture for our country and strengthen our security alliance with freedom-loving nations like the United States, the countries comprising the European Union, Japan, Australia, and our ASEAN neighbors,” Del Rosario said.

Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. however said, “It’s none of our business; it is China’s business what laws it passes; so please a little self-restraint.”

The DFA secretary likened China’s passage of its coast guard law to steps that the Philippine government took to defend its sovereignty such as devising a rubber stamp that stamps most of the South China Sea and parts of Borneo into the passports of inbound Chinese nationals, where “no one has complained.”