Boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao, who recently retired from the ring to run for the Philippine presidency in 2022, said Thursday he would not allow his country to “be bullied” by Beijing in the South China Sea if elected president, ABS-CBN reported.
Appearing on ANC 24/7, the TV news channel of Philippine news outlet ABS-CBN, on October 14, Sen. Pacquiao was asked if relations between Manila and Beijing “will change if he is elected president.”
“On the issue of the West Philippine Sea, we need to insist on and defend what is ours, and we do [not] need to start a fight with China,” he responded, referring to Manila’s name for the section of the South China Sea immediately west of the Philippines.
Continuing, the senator said:
In fact, it’s better if we befriend them to help our country, and discuss what is ours… we should take that, and whatever helps Filipinos, whatever helps our country succeed, we should stand by that. We should not let ourselves be bullied, we also want to be friends with other countries.
Beijing has increasingly infringed upon Philippine maritime territory in the South China Sea in recent months. The issue lead to a public parting of ways between Sen. Pacquiao and current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who were previously staunch political allies.
Pacquiao in May criticized Duterte’s response to China ordering a 220-strong fishing boat fleet to moor along a Philippine reef in the South China Sea as “lacking.” He accused the president of allowing his previously robust defense of Manila’s sovereign territory to weaken since he was elected in 2016.
In response, Duterte insulted Pacquiao’s political acumen, implying that the former athlete failed to grasp his stance due to a paucity of knowledge concerning international relations.
The Philippine Coast Guard spotted 220 Chinese fishing boats moored off the coast of Julian Felipe Reef on March 7. Beijing directly violated Manila’s maritime sovereignty by sending the fishing fleet to the reef, which is part of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or an area within which Manila enjoys exclusive rights to fishing and natural resource exploration. The Philippines responded to the action by filing a formal diplomatic protest with China to recall the vessels.
Beijing refused to disperse the fleet, however. China’s foreign ministry responded to Manila’s protest by illegally claiming sovereignty over Julian Felipe Reef. The Chinese fishing fleet eventually exited the reef’s waters in subsequent weeks, though Manila suspected that many of the vessels remained within the boundaries of the Philippines’ EEZ. The Philippine Armed Forces also said it believed Chinese militia members may have manned the intimidating fleet of vessels.