By Jojo Riñoza
China has agreed to donate millions of dollars in military and construction equipment to the Philippine government despite a bitter dispute over the South China Sea, officials said Wednesday.
A large part of the donation worth about 1 billion Philippine pesos will be for equipment to rebuild the southern city of Marawi, which was destroyed during a five-month battle in 2017 between militants linked to the Islamic State and government forces.
“Even as a non-traditional partner, China paid special attention to Marawi at the height of the rebellion in 2017 by providing 370 million pesos [U.S. $7.2 million] worth of firearms and ammunition,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
The first batch of the donation, valued at about 612 million pesos ($11.9 million), arrived here last month in the form of military equipment including drone systems, detectors, water purification vehicles, ambulances, firetrucks, x-ray machines, explosive-ordinance disposal robots, bomb disposal suits and transport vehicles.
More than five years after the battle ended, Marawi is still littered with unexploded ordnance left over from that fighting. The batch included engineering equipment such as backhoes, dump trucks, forklifts and earthmovers, Lorenzana’s office said.
“This military grant from China speaks volumes on how our two nations can be civil, diplomatic and friends despite some issues on territorial claims,” said Lorenzana, who officially received the equipment from Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian at Camp Aguinaldo in Metro Manila.
The ambassador did not release any statement about the handover, according to Lorenzana.
A second batch of equipment, valued at 435 million pesos ($8.4 million), was expected to arrive later in the year. Officials did not release details about what equipment would be included.
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are locked in territorial disputes over resource-rich island-chains, islets and other features in the South China Sea.
An international court ruling that came out shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 supported Manila’s territorial claims, but Beijing has not acknowledged it. Duterte, whose six-year term ends after the May 9 general election, decided on a different tack and worked to repair bilateral ties.
Duterte has repeatedly said that the Philippines would stand no chance if war with China broke out over the South China Sea. In addition, he profusely thanked Beijing for sending COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
But, facing pressure from allies and opposition members, Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020 that he supported the ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” Duterte said in a speech to the U.N. at the time. “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”