MANILA - A Chinese arts student who set off public outrage in the Philippines after she threw a cup of soy pudding at a police officer has expressed remorse over her behaviour.
This comes as lawyers for the immigration bureau recommend that a deportation case be filed against her.
"I (was) really in a bad mood, and I was not able to control my emotion. I really admit the mistake I made, and I feel so regretful," Zhang Jiale told GMA News on Monday (Feb 11) in the jail where she was being held.
"I'm really, really sorry. I really ask if it's possible to have another chance for me… I really like the Philippines. That's why I stay here. I like people here. I really love Filipinos," said the 23-year-old freshman at the SoFA Design Institute.
Zhang, whose father is an investor, has been staying in the country for six years on a special resident retiree's visa.
The immigration bureau's lawyers, however, "have found probable cause" to deport her, the bureau said in a statement on Tuesday.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente was quoted in the statement as saying that Zhang's actions were "an utter display of disobedience and arrogance against a person of authority".
"The bureau will not tolerate such acts, as this shows disrespect to the country," he added.
Zhang's lawyer Sandra Respall said the incident "was a very minor omission, which just went viral… It's a case where somebody got emotional over an incident".
Last Saturday, Police Officer 1 (PO1) William Cristobal stopped Zhang as she was making her way through a turnstile at a Metro Rail Transit (MRT) station in Manila. She had in her hand a cup of soy pudding called taho.
The officer told Zhang that she would have to finish her pudding before he would let her inside the station.
The government has banned certain liquid and gel items on the MRT because of reports that militants in the country's volatile south are planning to bomb public transport systems in Manila.
Instead of complying, Zhang argued with the police officer and in a final outburst, hurled her cup of pudding at his chest.
A passing commuter took a shot of the altercation, and a photo of a visibly upset Zhang and a policeman with half his shirt dripping with pudding quickly spread on social media. A video surfaced hours later. These images sparked nationalist outrage.
All across Facebook and Twitter, Zhang was derided for her "arrogance" and for being "disrespectful".
Some said her behaviour reflected the purportedly low regard many Chinese had for the Philippines, on account of President Rodrigo Duterte's policy to warm relations with China in exchange for investments for his ambitious US$169 billion (S$230 billion) infrastructure-building programme.
Vice-President Leni Robredo chimed in, saying Zhang's actions were "disrespectful" and an "insult to all Filipinos".
Zhang has been charged for "direct assault, disobedience… and unjust vexation". She faces four months to four years in prison, if found guilty.
PO1 Cristobal, meanwhile, received a medal for keeping his cool.
"What he showed our countrymen was that our police officers are truly disciplined and patient, regardless of whether they are facing a local or a foreigner," said national police chief, director-general Oscar Albayalde.
P01 Cristobal told reporters: "I just did what our… chief wanted us to do, which is to have a lot of patience and do what is right for our country."
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has advised caution over the handling of the case. "Way to proceed: calmly," he said in a post on Twitter.
He warned that this outrage could provoke an equally emotional response in China, which could jeopardise Filipinos working not just in the mainland, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
He said while Zhang deserved to be charged, deporting her would be an overreaction.
"She was flinging taho, not encroaching on our national territory," he said in a Twitter post.
That the incident is stoking so much resentment comes as no surprise.
Many Filipinos believe Mr Duterte's pivot towards China is encouraging hordes of Chinese to flock to the Philippines, causing disruptions.
Lawmakers are investigating reports that millions of Chinese migrants are already in the Philippines, taking even menial jobs away from Filipinos.
The Chinese are also being blamed for jacking up property rates in prime housing estates by as much as 65 per cent.
Then, there is the South China Sea.
Mr Duterte has glossed over disputes between Manila and Beijing over parts of this strategic waterway, as he courted Chinese investors.
Nearly nine in 10 Filipinos think he is wrong, and should instead be confronting China for the missiles, artillery and warplanes it is installing on islands it has built across the South China Sea.
Three of five Filipinos, meanwhile, are still distrustful of China. That sentiment runs deep, especially in Congress.
Some senators have moved to block a contract that will allow Chinese tech behemoth Huawei to supply equipment for a 20 billion-peso (S$520 million) CCTV surveillance system, citing national security risks.
Huawei is facing sweeping charges by the United States outlining a decade-long attempt by the company to steal trade secrets, obstruct a criminal investigation and evade economic sanctions on Iran.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.