'Enemies of gov't' behind 'Philippines, Province of China' banners? Police investigate

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Red banners saying "Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China" made rounds on social media on July 12, the second anniversary of the international tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines' claims over the South China Sea.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — Metro Manila police are investigating who are behind the unauthorized display of red banners with the words: "Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China" on several footbridges Thursday.

Metro Manila Police Director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar said they want to know the culprit's motive.

The banners created an uproar especially since their appearance come exactly two years since a Hague-based international arbitral tribunal declared China's sprawling territorial claims and assertive actions in the South China Sea as invalid and largely ruled in favor of the Philippines in its disputed with the regional giant. China has refused to acknowledge the landmark ruling and continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for his soft stance on the dispute with China, but has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with China within his term.

In his regular Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the banners were peddling a lie since the government asserts its sovereign rights over the disputed waters.

"It's absurd and I'm sure it's the enemies of our government behind it," he said.

Opposition lawmakers Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio denied that leftist groups were responsible for the tarps as they had no funds to do this.

"Whatever the motives may be, it's really not funny, especially on this particular day," former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said on CNN Philippines' The Source.

He believes the banners reflected the government's approach to the dispute.

"There's also a danger that a certain segment of the population will be more fearful of China and that will play it to the defeatist attitude of the government," he said.

 

He posted a photo of the tarpaulin on his social media account. Other netizens  posted pictures of the same banner hung in footbridges in other cities.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it did not issue permits for the banners which appeared on the second anniversary of the ruling of an international arbitration tribunal mostly favoring the Philippines' claims over that of China in the West Philippine Sea.

"Blangko po kami sa kung sino ang nag-post ng mga tarpaulin [We do not know who put up the tarpaulins]," MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialogo told CNN Philippines.

She said they were removing the banners and reviewing footage from security cameras in areas where these were hung to find out who put them up most  likely late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning since MMDA daily operations stop at 9 p.m.

In his regular Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the banners were peddling a lie since the government asserts its sovereign rights over the disputed waters.

"It's absurd and I'm sure it's the enemies of our government behind it," he said.

Opposition lawmakers Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio denied that leftist groups were responsible for the tarps as they had no funds to do this.

Hilbay believes the banners reflected the government's approach to the dispute.

On July 12, 2016, the Hague tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines' claims, junking China's historical nine-dash line claim which gives the Eastern giant ownership over majority of the waters.

"There's also a danger that a certain segment of the population will be more fearful of China and that will play it to the defeatist attitude of the government," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte previously joked that he wants the Philippines to be a province of China.

"Gusto ninyo gawain na lang ninyo kaming province, Fujian pati Philippine province of China, eh 'di wala tayong problema," Duterte told Filipino-Chinese businessmen in a speech in February.

[Translation: If you want you can make us your province. Fujian and the Philippine province of China, and we would have no problem.]    

The President also earlier said he had actively protested against China for its continuing reclamation and militarization of the South China Sea. He promised to raise the issue of the  arbitration ruling to Chinese President Xi Jinping sometime in his term.