Panelo exempted from gag order over WPS issue

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo (File photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is also authorizing Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo to issue statements on the Philippines’ long-standing dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This, after Duterte on Monday barred Cabinet secretaries, except Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., from commenting about issues related to WPS disputes between Manila and Beijing.

During his commentary show “Counterpoint,” Panelo said Duterte’s latest gag order does not apply to him.

Panelo said Duterte had told him he has the “legal” capacity to speak on Duterte’s behalf with regard to issues surrounding WPS.

“Sabi niya, ‘Sal, as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, mag-issue ka ng statement sapagkat iyan ay legal (He said, ‘Sal, as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, issue a statement because that is legal),’” Panelo said, quoting Duterte.

Duterte’s gag order also covers the National Task Force on WPS (NTF-WPS), which releases statements and photos of Chinese ships encroaching into the Philippine waters.

Roque, in a virtual presser on Tuesday, said the inputs of NTF-WPS will now be covered by “executive privilege”.

Sovereign rights over WPS won’t be compromised

Amid issues concerning WPS, Duterte intends to resolve the sea dispute with China through a diplomatic approach, Panelo said.

Panelo said Duterte’s independent foreign policy of “being friend to all, enemy to none” still stands.

He also assured the Philippines’ sovereign rights over WPS won’t be compromised.

Ang posisyon ni Presidente, lahat ng bagay, puwedeng pag-usapan, maliban sa sovereignty, hindi ito puwedeng i-kompromiso iyan. Ipaglalaban iyan (The President’s position is all issues can be solved through negotiations. However, we will not compromise our sovereignty. He will fight for it),” Panelo said.

Duterte, Panelo said, is willing to be an “enemy” of any country that will attempt to assault the country’s sovereignty.

“Maliwanag po yun. Kaibigan ko kayong lahat pero pag kayo, isa, dalawa sa inyo, kahit na kayong lahat pa, pinagkaisahan niyo na sisirain ninyo ang aming soberenya, magkakamatayan tayo dito, Pagtatanggol ko iyan (That is clear. All nations are his friends but if one or two of them would try to assault our sovereignty, he will fight for it and is even willing to die),” Panelo said.

On May 13, Duterte told China that the Philippine vessels would “not move an inch backward” from WPS, even if Manila’s friendship with Beijing would be at stake and his order would cause his death.

The Philippines on July 12, 2016 won its petition against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, after the court ruled that Beijing has no basis to claim historic rights over nearly the entire South China Sea.

China has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the 2016 PCA ruling, while the Philippines has sought to address the maritime dispute in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. (PNA)

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