MANILA, Philippines - President Duterte’s statement on possibly selling Philippine islands in the South China Sea to China if the country gets “very rich” could send a message that Malacañang is not faithfully executing its role to defend what rightfully belongs to the country, according to the Philippines’ former top diplomat.
Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said such statements should be avoided, as suggested earlier by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Del Rosario said these off-the-cuff remarks “put us in a poor strategic position without the benefit of flexibility, especially if there is a need to negotiate.”
“The legality of statements made is not clear and should be studied. It could be a very thin line, since it can be further argued that the Palace is not faithfully executing its role to defend what is ours,” Del Rosario said.
He emphasized that the arbitration outcome stands, since nothing can be done to affect its validity.
It could undermine, however, the Philippines’ ability and that of other nations to implement the outcome.
“It gives our northern neighbor the political momentum to persist in its unlawful expansion agenda,” Del Rosario added.
China expressed concern over Duterte’s order to the military to occupy at least nine undisputed and Philippine-controlled islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to make a “strong point” about the country’s sovereignty over these areas.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the Philippines to “continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China,” saying a better situation in the South China Sea has not come easily.
The Ministry said China is committed to defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and safeguarding peace and stability there.
During a press briefing in Puerto Princesa, Palawan recently, Duterte said that there is a need to maintain jurisdiction over the disputed waters.
The Philippines controls nine islets in the disputed Spratlys region, the largest of which is Pag-asa, an area governed by Palawan’s fifth class town Kalayaan. Other Philippine-occupied islets in the Spratlys are Ayungin Shoal, Lawak Island, Parola Island, Patag Island, Kota Island, Rizal Reef, Likas Island and Panata Island.