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Philippine News Agency takes down Xinhua's South China Sea commentary

Beijing criticism of Manila's arbitration victory sparks backlash

MANILA -- A Xinhua News Agency commentary critical of the Philippines' arbitration victory in a territorial dispute with China made its way to a Philippine News Agency website, triggering an investigation and social media backlash.

Following the online uproar yesterday, the state-run PNA took down the article, which had been posted on Aug. 6. Headlined, "Time to turn a new leaf on South China Sea issue," the commentary branded the July 2016 ruling as an "ill-founded award" for the Philippines.

The award refers to a decision by a Hague-based arbitration panel that China's expansive claim of the South China Sea has no legal or historical basis. The Philippines, which claims parts of the disputed waterway, filed the case in 2013 under the government of President Benigno Aquino. China refused to recognize the arbitration process from the very start.

Facebook users reacted angrily to the PNA's carrying of the Xinhua article. And on Twitter, former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez asked: "[Is] PNA becoming a mouthpiece of China?"

Xinhua, China's official press agency, often carries government propaganda.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, who oversees state media assets, on Wednesday said: "We will take appropriate action [against those responsible at the PNA]. We have already sent a memo to PNA to explain in writing why they should not be held liable for any administrative charges."

PNA has been criticized before and has had to take down some erroneous and misleading posts.

Last May, Andanar signed a memorandum of understanding with China to improve the quality of government media through news and information exchange and staff training, among others.

The MOU is part of bilateral agreements signed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year.

Duterte, who has moved to rebuild ties with China, has temporarily set aside the maritime dispute, including the arbitration victory, in exchange for economic aid amounting to at least $24 billion.

He has also praised China in many public speeches, helping Filipinos improve their perception toward their Asian neighbor.

Filipinos' net trust rating of China stood at -4% in the first quarter, a dramatic improvement from the -37% a year earlier, according to Social Weather Stations. In comparison, Filipinos' net trust of the U.S. is +56, of Japan it is +42 and of Australia +38.

The U.S., Japan and Australia early this week urged the Philippines and China to comply with the arbitration ruling.

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