MANILA - Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo hit back at Sen. Panfilo Lacson over the latter's social media post which questioned the Palace official for relaying a message by China's envoy.
"I take strong exception to the remarks of Senator Panfilo 'Ping' Lacson that I am speaking on behalf of the Chinese embassy when I shared to the media its ambassador's reaction in connection with fears about the location of some Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs)," Panelo said in a statement Sunday.
"There is nothing wrong with sharing the text message of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua as the same was made to provide a context and response to a query from a media reporter," he added.
Panelo said it was his duty to share to the public information related to national issues, including those that concern overseas foreign workers (OFWs).
"It is the primordial duty of the President to serve and protect the interests of the Filipino people, whether they reside here or abroad," he said.
"As his spokesperson, 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.
Panelo added that "if Senator Lacson is not concerned with the OFWs, the Office of the President is."
"Senator Lacson need not be reminded that as a Senator of the Republic, he represents not only Filipinos who live here but also those who work abroad, unless his statement is driven by the fact the OFW votes in China will not move a needle for him if he plans to run in 2022," said Panelo.
In response to Panelo's statements, Lacson said the Palace official "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 in a tweet.
Panelo earlier said Zhao warned Malacañang that China could also suspect Filipino workers of espionage, quoting off a text message from the Chinese envoy.
This prompted Lacson to post on Twitter Panelo's quote, which relayed Zhao's remark, adding the phrase: "PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OR CHINESE EMBASSY SPOKESMAN?"
Zhao's message to Malacañang came after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana raised the possibility that Chinese workers in POGO hubs may be used for spying activities as they are located near military camps.