Lacson calls out Panelo: Presidential spokesman or Chinese embassy spokesman?

By CNN Philippines Staff

A Senator called out Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo for speaking on behalf of the Chinese embassy, after reading out a text sent to him by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.

“Why would the country’s presidential spokesperson whose salary and other miscellaneous expenses are being paid out of our taxes take on the embassy spokesman’s job?” said Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Sunday.

Lacson was referring to Panelo’s statement on Saturday, allegedly saying he received a text message from the ambassador that denounced claims of “spying” on the country’s military camps, involving Chinese nationals in nearby gambling sites.

“Ambassador Zhao sent me a text, He said, ‘What if we also think that you overseas workers are also spying on us. What can you say about that?’” Panelo further said.

Lacson said the Chinese embassy has its own spokesperson whose job is to speak on behalf of China.

“The thing is, the Chinese embassy has its own spokesman who should speak on their behalf because that’s his job,” he said.

Panelo released a statement in response to Lacson’s comment on Sunday, saying he took “strong exception” to the senator’s words and there was nothing wrong in sharing Zhao’s text message as the Ambassador was free to speak about China’s position on the issue.

Panelo also reiterated he is the spokesperson not only of President Rodrigo Duterte, but of Filipinos here and abroad.

“I am the spokesperson of the President and of the entire Filipino people, including the overseas foreign workers (OFWs). As the Presidential Spokesperson, it is my duty to be transparent to the media and ultimately the public in sharing information which is germane to a national issue or concern, in consideration of the latter’s constitutional right to information,” he said.

Panelo added OFWs should know how China feels about the issue.

“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 said.

He also hit back at Lacson, saying if the senator was not concerned about the welfare of Filipinos overseas, the Office of the President was.

Lacson sent out another tweet addressing the issue, saying Panelo “missed the point.”

“The issue is not about the welfare of our OFW’s or the Chinese ambassador’s statement in trying to defend his country’s position. It’s him taking on the job of the embassy’s spokesperson,” Lacson said.

Lawmakers and government officials have aired concerns the past few weeks over the location of some Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) and their proximity to military bases such as the headquarters of the Armed Forces, the Navy and the Philippine National Police.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday he feared POGOs may shift their activities to spying. Thousands of Chinese nationals are reportedly recruited without proper documentation in the country, especially in the POGO industry.

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