Manila, Philippines – Filipinos in Metro Manila were shocked Thursday morning to see tarpaulin banners proclaiming the Philippines as a ‘Province of China’ displayed on several footbridges.
The appearance of the banners coincided with the second anniversary of the UN Arbitral Tribunal ruling that awarded sovereign rights in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) to the Philippines.
Legit nga ang sign, I saw it just now. “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” pic.twitter.com/svzDDQeFVR
— Zaldy III (@zaldynamic) 12. Juli 2018
Among the confirmed sites were the footbridge near the corner of D. Tuazon and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, and a footbridge near NAIA.
The identity of those behind the banners remains unknown as of this writing.
A concerned public
Interaksyon.com got in touch with Noel Origenes, who on his Facebook account posted a picture of one of the tarpaulins. He related that it was a friend who took the photograph.
Origenes has not yet heard of who may put up the banners, understanding that the force behind the appearance could be either staunch supporters of China or an anti-China group that wanted to send a wake-up call.
Angered by the prospect of the Philippines becoming a ‘province of China,’ he does mind the local government opting not to take down the banners.
“I hate the idea that we are a province of China. It is not right in any way,” said Origenes.
“But the banner is also a realization of what is happening to our country, which saddens me more. As we say, the truth hurts,” he added.
Origenes however believes that investigating the matter would be a waste of time, as there were other pressing issues in the country. For him, the posters could just be a diversion.
One of the first public figures to condemn the act was former solicitor general Florin Hilbay.
In a tweet, the veteran lawyer voiced his displeasure and called for authorities and private citizens alike to take down the banners.
On this day, July 12, we commemorate our victory in Philippines v. China.
On Metro Manila footbridges, these tarps suddenly appear.
MMDA, LGUs, and citizens should immediately take these down. pic.twitter.com/gDR6BMbojI
— florin hilbay (@fthilbay) 11. Juli 2018
Hilbay during his time as the state’s top lawyer was part of the delegation sent to argue for the Philippine’s exclusive sovereign rights to disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.
The decision in favor of the Philippines by the United Nations arbitral tribunal was released on July 12, 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte, known for stressing warmer ties with China—a top trade partner and territorial rival—claimed that the Philippines would not deviate from the ruling.
However, he has not enforced the decision, citing the need to not antagonize China.
Duterte has repeatedly butt heads with advocates of the UN decision, including Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
In February 2018, Duterte drew flak for joking that the Philippines could become a “province of China,” which is what the banners proclaim.
Calls to enforce the UN decision were renewed in June 2018, when Chinese authorities were documented confiscating fish caught by Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, the sovereign rights to which were among those awarded to the Philippines.