By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star)
Posted May 11, 2012 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines would not be provoked by any action – and would not initiate provocative acts – that might lead to the escalation of tensions between Manila and Beijing, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Manila would instead continue to engage in diplomacy in the face of apparent Chinese economic sanctions.
Lacierda said there was no reason for China to suspend tour packages to the Philippines and to impose stricter rules on bananas or other exports coming from Manila.
He said the Palace and the Department of Tourism (DOT) had not received any formal announcement on the suspension of tour packages in response to global protests set by Filipinos over the weekend.
“But if it is true – and I say if it is true – it is unfortunate. But what we will do is we will just have to work harder on the other markets that we have,” Lacierda said.
Asked if the Philippines is prepared to forgo tourists from China, Lacierda said the government could not do anything about their decision on the tour packages.
The Philippines has complained to China that more Filipino tourists are going to China rather than Chinese tourists coming to the Philippines.
This was raised during the state visit of President Aquino to China last year, where he also sought more investments since Filipino-Chinese businessmen seemed to have more businesses in China than the Chinese have in Manila.
During that visit, the two countries agreed to maintain their respective stands on the West Philippine Sea dispute while more Chinese businessmen pledged to invest in the Philippines.
They also agreed to work to increase tourists from both sides to two million by 2016 and launch the years of friendly exchanges between the two countries.
Lacierda reiterated yesterday in his press briefing that between the Philippines and China, “just to let you know, we have more tourists going to China than Chinese coming to the Philippines.
“And as you know, ironically, this is the year of friendly exchanges. That’s why we say it is unfortunate that this happened,” Lacierda said.
Aside from the tourism sector, there were also reports that more stringent rules were being imposed on bananas exported to China.
Lacierda said he spoke to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and essentially what was raised was a phytosanitary and “sanitary issue.”
“With respect to our banana exports to China, it is being addressed as a technical issue by regulatory agencies of both countries. I think they will talk. There will be further discussions on our exports. DTI, DA and their counterparts will be meeting,” Lacierda said. Lacierda also downplayed reports that China was bullying the Philippines by scrapping the country as a tourist destination and for imposing rigid inspection of Philippine fruit exports.
He said the banana growers, Bureau of Plant Industry and the Philippine embassy in China were also addressing the matter with its counterpart agency for quarantine in China.
“This is purely a technical matter, best addressed by the technical and regulatory agencies for both countries,” he said.
Lacierda said these issues must be taken separately from the rallies staged by Filipinos, because freedom of expression and assembly were part of their rights enshrined in the Constitution.
“We’d like to assure our Chinese friends that this is not – we, the Philippine government – did not have a hand there. It was a decision taken by private citizens who feel out of patriotism that they have to speak on the issue. Again, our Constitution clearly protects freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly. So our only request to the people who are going to conduct their rally today is to encourage them to do it peacefully,” he said.
He added that the Philippine authorities would ensure the safety of all citizens, even if rallies were to be held here in Manila.
“Just to be true about this, there are a lot of Chinese here, you wouldn’t know if they are from mainland or from the Philippines… Our relations with China have been very good on a cultural level and on a familial level. So there should be no reason for our Chinese friends and the Chinese embassy to worry about the safety of their Chinese nationals,” Lacierda said.
He said the protest actions were “separate and distinct from our relations from China.”
Lacierda said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had just announced they were going to put forth a new diplomatic initiative.
“As to what it is, we will just have to wait for the DFA to announce it. I have no idea yet for now. So we’ll wait for the DFA to announce the new diplomatic initiative,” he said.
Former president Fidel Ramos, who was expected to attend the protest against China here in Manila, reportedly did not arrive but Lacierda noted “we’ve already said that the rally will be undertaken by private citizens.”