President Duterte confirmed last night he will bring up the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippine position on the South China Sea issue when he meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing this month.
KJ Rosales
Duterte to invoke SCS ruling during China trip
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Now is the time.

President Duterte confirmed last night he would bring up the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippine position on the South China Sea issue when he meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing this month.

“Let’s talk about the arbitral ruling. I’m going to China to talk,” Duterte said at the oath taking of officials of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry at Malacañang.

“Ayoko ng away (I don’t want to fight),” he said, reiterating the Philippines could not afford to go to war with China.

Duterte, who has been tapping Chinese loans to fund his ambitious infrastructure programs, is being accused of cozying up too much to China and not doing enough to assert the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Earlier yesterday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo stressed Duterte has always been for asserting the country’s rights in the West Philippines but is just waiting for the right time.

“He (Duterte) said, ‘Remember that I said before that there would be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling. And this is the time. That’s why I am going there,’” Panelo said at a press briefing.

“He precisely said that is pursuant to what he said the first time we visited China, ‘There will be a time that I will raise this issue and talk about it but not now.’ The time has come,” he added.

Critics have also warned that the President’s handling of the West Philippine Sea row can erode the Philippines’ legal victory in The Hague, where a UN-backed arbitral court voided Beijing’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ maritime entitlements, including its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Duterte has repeatedly warned that an aggressive stance could lead to a bloody conflict with China but has also vowed to discuss the arbitral ruling with Chinese leaders within his term.

His fifth visit to China this month is the right time to invoke the arbitral ruling, his spokesman said.

South China Sea is one of the busiest sealanes through which 80 percent of world trade passes.

Panelo said one of the President’s goals in invoking the arbitral ruling is the proposed joint exploration of resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“His term is about to end, right? He said ‘before the end of my term.’ He is also interested in that 60-40 joint explorations on minerals, oil. They will talk about it,” the spokesman said, adding that the Philippines would get a larger share under the proposed scheme.

Duterte and Xi signed a memorandum of understanding on the proposed joint exploration last November.

 Rody to be ‘firm’

Panelo was mum on how Duterte would discuss the arbitral ruling with Xi but maintained that the Philippine leader would be “firm” on his position.

“It would be up to the President on how we would go about it. It’s one-on-one,” he said.

“Let’s see how it goes when he goes there... The President is always firm,” he said.

Asked if a framework on joint oil exploration would be signed during the visit, Panelo replied: “Let’s see. We will be speculating, it’s enough that you know that he will be raising those issues.”

Duterte recently sparked controversy for saying that the constitutional provision on the country’s EEZ is for the “thoughtless and the senseless.”

He had also admitted his belief that China would not recognize the provision and would just regard it as mere “toilet paper.”

Panelo also emphasized that Duterte’s visit to China this month was not triggered by a particular incident but was in line with a deal with China.

“His response to me was, ‘that was our agreement with (the) president of China,’” the Palace spokesman said.

Panelo said the Recto Bank incident may also be tackled during the visit.

“In other words, all issues involving China would be included,” he said.

Aside from discussing bilateral issues with Xi, Duterte also hopes to watch the FIBA World Cup during his China visit. Malacañang has yet to disclose the date of the trip but Panelo said the visit may take place at the end of the month. 

Former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario, a critic of Duterte’s policy of appeasement toward Beijing, said the President’s plan to finally invoke the arbitral ruling needs the support of the nation. “Let us salute him and assure him of the support of all Filipinos,” he said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the President should have invoked the arbitral ruling right from the start.

“This is something that President Duterte should have been doing consistently from the beginning. Nevertheless, I welcome Malacañang’s statement that the President will finally invoke The Hague ruling during his visit to China this month. Sa wakas (At last)!” Hontiveros said.

“I can only hope that President Duterte is not doing this merely to shore up support within the military, but because it is his duty as President to defend our country’s territorial integrity,” she said.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Duterte is already at a disadvantage ahead of his talks with his Chinese counterpart.

“After acknowledging during his State of the Nation Address that China is already in possession of the West Philippine Sea, the President will rely more on the good graces of China rather than the Philippine victory in the arbitral tribunal,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying warned that China “will not sit idly” by and watch its interests being compromised by a US plan to deploy new ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Asia.

She was reacting to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s statement on Saturday regarding the planned US deployment of such missiles in Asia.

“The range of intermediate-range missiles is limited, so their location is important. China is a large country with a big population. We need necessary defense capacity to defend against invasion and safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hua said at a press conference on Monday. – With  Cecille Suerte Felipe, Pia Lee-Brago, Rhodina Villanueva

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