Hontiveros pushes for peace, democracy in meeting with Taiwan leader

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(Photo from Senator Risa Hontiveros)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, making her the first sitting Philippine official in more than a decade to visit Taiwan's chief executive amid rising tensions with China.

China in April launched military drills around self-ruled Taiwan in response to Tsai's visit to United States lawmakers, which Beijing described as "Taiwan separatist forces' collusion with external forces."

That same month, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian advised the Philippine government "to unequivocally oppose Taiwan independence rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait, if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in Taiwan."

A press release from Hontiveros' office said the senator flew to Taiwan particularly to check on the OFWs "who were threatened by the Chinese Ambassador's dangerous statements."

"While we in the Philippines will never interfere with the issue of your independence, I will always support nations who err on the side of democracy. We know that democracy is a powerful vaccine against armed conflict," Hontiveros was quoted as saying in a statement addressed to the Taiwanese leader.

Photos and videos released by her office show Hontiveros exchanging pleasantries and engaging in discussions with Tsai at the latter's residence in Taipei.

The senator's office said she also raised the issue of China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea, which Beijing claims based on a controversial nine-dash line.

"I cannot help but raise an urgent issue that looms large over the Philippines — the external threat posed by China in our territories, a similar dilemma Taiwan also faces," Hontiveros said.

"Like President Tsai, I would like a peaceful approach to the South China Sea question. I will work on taking tangible steps in the Philippine legislature to ensure that we successfully discuss and conduct diplomatic, legal, and respectful negotiations with all States concerned to advance peace and stability in the entire South China Sea," she added.

Before Hontiveros, the late Edgardo Angara was the last senator to meet with a Taiwan president in 2009 for a joint labor conference, while then Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas was the last Cabinet official to visit Taiwan's leader in 2011.

The late former President Fidel Ramos had also met with Tsai in 2017.