MANILA, Philippines — Tarpaulins bearing the words “Welcome to the Philippines, province of China” were seen hanging from several footbridges in Metro Manila Thursday, two years after the country won its arbitration case against China.
The red banners bore the Chinese flag and Chinese characters.
It is unclear who installed the tarpaulins, which are possible reference to a “joke” by President Rodrigo Duterte that the country can be a province of the Asian giant.
“He (Xi Jinping) is a man of honor. They can even make us ‘Philippines, province of China,’ we will even avail of services for free,” Duterte said in apparent jest before an audience of Chinese-Filipino business leaders earlier in 2018. “If China were a woman, I’d woo her.”
Chinese-Filipinos are of Chinese descent but are Filipino citizens and it is incorrect to assume that they are pro-China.
In a Palace briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said enemies of the government are behind the tarpaulins.
A report on ANC said that the Metro Manila Development Authority already took the banners down.
The tarpaulins sparked outrage among social media users.
One of those who were not amused by the banners was former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.
“Whatever the motives may be, it’s not funny, especially on this particular day,” Hilbay said in an interview on CNN Philippines. He was a member of the legal team that won the case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations ruled in favor of the Philippines in its arbitration case against China over the South China Sea.
The Hague-based tribunal ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters has no legal basis.
The government, however, opted to play down the verdict and focus on improving political and economic relations with China.
READ: The verdict: Philippines wins arbitration case vs China
In a forum marking the second anniversary of the ruling, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said that the Philippines had missed an opportunity “to take advantage of its position to develop and obtain the support of many countries whose principles are aligned with our own and with whom our own voice could be magnified.”
Social media users, including former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, are reporting seeing banners saying “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” hanging from overpasses in parts of Metro Manila.
The sightings coincide with the second anniversary of an arbitral tribunal ruling that China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea has no legal basis. The Philippines has opted to play down the ruling and focus on nurturing better political and economic relations with China.
It is unclear who put up the banners, which are a possible reference to a “joke” that President Rodrigo Duterte told Chinese-Filipino business leaders in February.
“He (Xi) is a man of honor. They can even make us ‘Philippines, province of China,” we will even avail of services for free,” Duterte said in apparent jest. “If China were a woman, I’d woo her.”
The Palace said the remark was meant to impress the audience, who were Filipino citizens of Chinese descent.
The Quezon City government has ordered its Public Safety personnel to remove tarpaulins that refer to the Philippines as a province of China.
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