By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that it was his duty as the Chief Executive’s mouthpiece to tell the public any information that may affect them, including the remark of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua about the possibility that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in China may be suspected for being spies.
Panelo made the statement after Senator Ping Lacson asked in his Twitter account if Panelo was the presidential spokesperson or spokesman of the Chinese Embassy.
Read more: Lacson asks Panelo: Have you switched sides?
Lacson was reacting to Panelo sharing Zhao’s statement that China can think the same way about OFWs there if Filipinos really suspect that Chinese workers in the Philippines are a threat to the country’s security.
In a statement Sunday evening, Panelo took exception to Lacson’s remarks that he was speaking on behalf of the Chinese embassy when he shared to the media Zhao’s reaction to fears about the location of some Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) with Chinese employees near military bases.
According to Panelo, there was nothing wrong with what he did because it was his duty to answer questions from the media. He also said that Zhao is authorized to speak about China’s position on issues.
“There is nothing wrong with sharing the text message of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua as the same was made to provide a context and response to a query from a media reporter on the sentiments and alarm of Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana on the subject,” he said.
“As the Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Zhao is authorized to speak about the position of his government,” he added.
Panelo then said that it was also his duty to be transparent to the media and the public in sharing any information which is germane to a national issue or concern.
“Our overseas workers in China also deserve to be apprised of their host country’s reaction to this issue as it concerns them,” he said.
“It is the primordial duty of the President to serve and protect the interests of the Filipino people, whether they reside here or abroad, and as his spokesperson, I take it as my responsibility to inform the public because China’s stance may need to be considered in any policy or government action with respect to Chinese nationals working here,” he added.
‘Don’t you need their votes?’
Panelo then reminded Lacson that he also represents Filipinos everywhere, saying if the Senator is not concerned with the OFWs, the Office of the President certainly is.
“If Senator Lacson is not concerned with the OFWs, the Office of the President is. Anything that concerns them or any policy of a host country that may affect their stay we certainly are interested and concerned,” he said.
“Senator Lacson need not be reminded that as a Senator of the Republic, he represents not only Filipinos who live here but also those who work abroad, unless his statement is driven by the fact the OFW votes in China will not move a needle for him if he plans to run in 2022,” he added.
Panelo said that Lacson may be criticizing him because he was offended when he made a comment about the Senator’s proposal about invoking the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States to monitor the situation in the disputed waters.
“He appears to have been deeply offended, and until now has not recovered from such misery caused by my statement that such proposal is premature, reckless and irresponsible without an act of armed aggression on the part of China,” he said.
The Palace official then asked Lacson to take criticism directed at him like what Malacañang does.
“The good senator takes liberty at criticizing but it seems that he cannot take any criticism directed to him as a response to his initial criticism,” Panelo said.
“This Administration is open to suggestions and criticisms, but we expect those who express the same to be ready to engage in an intellectual discourse without resorting to unsporting remarks,” he added.