âWeâll insist on what is oursâ
President Duterte said the arbitral tribunal ruling that favored the Philippines would be discussed during his state visit to China, but there would be “no hard impositions.” Duterte will proceed to China after his visit to Brunei.
AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

‘We’ll insist on what is ours’

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2016 - 12:00am

Duterte to raise arbitral ruling with China

MANILA, Philippines - The sovereign claims of the Philippines in the South China Sea are not up for bargain with China.

President Duterte made the statement yesterday even as he vowed to boost ties with the emerging superpower during his four-day state visit to Beijing later this week.

“We will stick to our claim. We do not bargain anything. We will continue to insist on what is ours,” Duterte told reporters at the Davao International Airport before leaving for a three-day visit to Brunei.

“I will be very careful not to bargain anything for after all, I cannot give what is not mine and which I am not empowered to do by any stretch of imagination,” he added.

Duterte noted the Constitution does not allow him to give up any of the Philippines’ territorial claims.

He said the arbitral tribunal ruling that favored the Philippines would be discussed during his state visit to China, but there would be “no hard impositions.” Duterte will proceed to China after his visit to Brunei.

“When you go there, you want to talk. Remember, there are only two options, we go to trouble or we talk. We can choose the path there in between,” Duterte said.

“The (international tribunal) decision will be taken up but there will be no hard impositions. We will talk, we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories, the special economic zones,” he added.

Last July, a Hague-based arbitral court voided China’s nine-dash line claim, which covers about 90 percent of the South China Sea including areas also being claimed by the Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The tribunal ruled the Philippines has sovereign rights over the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Recto (Reed) Bank, areas off Palawan that are within China’s nine-dash line.

The court said China had also violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos when it denied them access to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012. The shoal, known to local fishermen as Bajo de Masinloc, is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales and is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China refuses to recognize the ruling, which it has described as “illegal since Day One.”

Last week, Duterte said he would not dwell on the Philippines’ claim to Panatag Shoal during his visit to China but would ask Chinese leaders to allow Filipino fishermen to enter the area.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a member of the team that challenged China’s expansive maritime claim before the international tribunal, warned Duterte may be impeached if he gives up the Philippines’ sovereignty of the shoal.

Duterte, a lawyer, agrees with Carpio’s statements.

“It’s an impeachable offense. I won’t fight with that statement. It’s all correct. It’s all legal. So I agree with him,” he said.

“I said we cannot barter something that belongs to the Filipino people. I cannot be the sole authorized agent for that. It is not allowed under the Constitution.”

Starting point

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Duterte said talks with China should start with the arbitral ruling.

“Nobody is going to give up the judgment that is in our favor. I cannot give it up. Nobody can give it up nobody in the constitution allows anybody to give it up. Even the president cannot give it up,” Duterte said.

“I cannot go out beyond the boundaries of this paper. Let’s talk. Let’s begin here,” he added, referring the arbitral court’s decision.

Duterte said giving up the Philippines’ maritime claims is “one sure way of going to impeachment.”

The President stressed that he would not go to war with China over the maritime dispute.

“What do you think will happen to my country if I choose to go to war? Fight alone? I would call upon other countries to help me? Who would die for my country except us? So we can only talk. That’s why they invited me for talks. I will go,” he said.

When asked to react to criticisms that he appears to be negotiating tenuously despite the Philippines’ victory in its case against China, Duterte replied: “It would be arrogant to go there and say I’m going there to fight for this and that.”

“You have to go there with a little bit of courtesy,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said he is hoping the President would address the concerns with his Chinese counterpart.

Yasay blamed the previous administration for allowing China to complete its military occupation of the disputed rock features within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“What our people should realize and understand is that the provoking and inflexible tack taken by the previous administration in resolving the dispute has led to the completion by China of facilities that are inherently designed for military purposes in some of the rock features within our EEZ, while we stand completely helpless with our ally and traditional partners,” Yasay said.

“Worse, we have been tricked into removing our public vessels from control over Bajo de Masinloc and displacing our fishermen from their traditional fishing ground while desperately trying to eke a living for their families,” he said.

Yasay urged the public to just pray for the success of Duterte’s visit to China, saying it is a mission of keeping peace and stability in the region through mutual respect and understanding between two nations.

“His goal is to forge closer political, economic and cultural ties on the premise that the South China Sea is not the sum total of our relationship with our Asian neighbor,” Yasay said.

“Promoting the paramount welfare of our people through better and enduring friendships is the best way to ensure the peaceful settlement of our disputes no matter how long it might take, without derogating our maritime entitlements in the SCS under international law in order to promote the national interest as mandated by the Constitution,” he said.

Stronger ties

The maritime issue is not the only agenda of Duterte’s state visit to China.

Duterte said he is looking forward to exchanging views with Chinese leaders on how they can boost bilateral relations, trade and investments.

Duterte is scheduled to meet with China President Xi Jinping, China Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang during his state visit.

“This is the first state visit of a Philippine president to Beijing since 2011 and signals a key turning point in both our histories. We’ll look forward to renewing our ties of friendship between the Philippines and China and to reaffirm the commitment to work closer to achieve shared goals for our countries and peoples,” Duterte said in his departure speech.

“As we mark this year the 41st anniversary of the establishment of relations between China and the Philippines, we will look at the sum total of our relationships,” he said.

Yasay added critics have been sowing conflict and fear that Duterte might end up yielding the country’s interests to China.

Yasay said Duterte is pushing hard the Philippines’ maritime claims, which was bolstered further by the July 12 arbitral ruling.

“Therefore, I urge all Filipinos to wish the President well on this trip and to pray for the best in accepting the stark reality that humanity is capable of swiftly and decisively annihilating itself with weapons of mass destruction it created. Under these circumstances, there is no substitute for peace in resolving our disputes,” Yasay said. – With Pia Lee-Brago

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