Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said citizens were worried Rodrigo Duterte was “selling out” to Beijing and called on the president to take a stronger stand to protect the country’s sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea.
Robredo, who is keeping her options open regarding the presidential race in 2022, said in an interview the president had not taken advantage of an international tribunal ruling that affirmed the Philippines’ economic rights in a maritime zone also claimed by China.
“I understand why our new administration is more friendly to China, but I think there should be a clear line as far as protecting our territory and sovereignty,” Robredo told Bloomberg TV.
“The president has made a lot of statements which gives a sense we are acquiescing to what China wants.”
The public is afraid, she said, “we might wake up one day and many of our territories are no longer ours.” Robredo hopes Duterte will raise the ruling in his meeting with China President Xi Jinping this month, and urged greater transparency in loans and deals with Beijing.
US presence in disputed waters is “a source of comfort,” Robredo added, but the Philippines should not rely on any foreign power. “Friendships with both the US and China will be beneficial.”
Robredo is in the unusual position of serving as both the vice president and the main opposition leader, due to Philippine rules in which the president and vice president are elected separately. She has been on the receiving end of attacks from Duterte, whose critics have been jailed or ousted since he came to power in 2016.
She said she was ready for the presidency but would decide later on whether to stand as the opposition Liberal Party’s main candidate in elections three years from now, when Filipinos will vote on Duterte’s successor.
“If you ask me now, I have no plans, but I am leaving everything open,” the vice president said. “I wouldn’t have ran for the vice presidency if I didn’t feel I was ready for the presidency.”
At the height of questions about his health last month, Duterte said he doesn’t want Robredo to succeed him, describing her as “not capable of running a country.” The vice president has led opposition to Duterte’s drug war that has killed thousands.