Duterte, reviled by critics for cozying up to China especially on the West Philippine Sea row, said on Wednesday that the arbitral ruling on the EEZ would be “ignored” so that China could help the Philippines spur “economic activity” in the country’s EEZ.
Palace: Philippine not dropping claims, arbitral victory
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Setting aside or ignoring the 2016 arbitral court ruling on the South China Sea is not the same as abandoning it and relinquishing the country’s sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Malacañang clarified yesterday.

President Duterte revealed earlier this week that China had vowed to adopt a 60-40 sharing scheme favoring the Philippines in the proposed joint development of resources in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for setting aside the 2016 landmark ruling.

Duterte, reviled by critics for cozying up to China especially on the West Philippine Sea row, said on Wednesday that the arbitral ruling on the EEZ would be “ignored” so that China could help the Philippines spur “economic activity” in the country’s EEZ.

“The setting aside doesn’t mean that we will abandon it. What the President means is that, as we have repeatedly said and as he has said, too, the arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries; negotiation is ongoing peacefully. But meanwhile, we focus without other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries,” Panelo said at a press briefing. 

“In other words, there is an impasse so let them talk; so let’s talk about other things like this joint exploration,” he added.

In a statement, former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario said China’s asking the Duterte administration to “set aside” the arbitral court ruling “can be viewed as significant recognition by Beijing of the arbitral outcome.”

Del Rosario was part of the legal team that helped the Philippines secure a favorable ruling from the UN-backed court based in The Hague.

“In our desire to advance the rule of law, therefore, we should not allow our rightful position to be thrown into reverse gear,” he said.

“We surely do not want the consequences of a nine-dash line to once again confront us,” he added. He called the arbitral decision “the Philippines’ gift to the world.”

At their bilateral meeting in Beijing last month, Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the maritime dispute, including the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in oil and gas development signed by the two countries last November.

Xi reiterated that China does not recognize the arbitral ruling, which also invalidated Beijing’s expansive claim in the South China Sea. Duterte had said he was not satisfied with the Chinese leader’s response and admitted that the maritime dispute would remain a problem “like a sore thumb that sticks out painfully every day.”

“Not set aside, but set aside in the sense that, ‘OK, let’s talk about it, we will continue talking.’ That’s what he meant. It’s not just focused on that. As we have always said, the relationship between the two countries is not measured by the conflict in the West Philippine Sea alone,” the presidential spokesman said.

“When he said ‘ignore,’ he meant set aside. It’s still there. There is an impasse. We have not moved forward but we continue to talk. We’re still peacefully negotiating the same, in fact that was a joint statement,” he added.

Panelo said Duterte regards the arbitral ruling as permanent, binding, final and unappealable. “It’s there forever and ever, like forever,” he added.

Panelo also lashed out at Del Rosario, who said the preservation of national patrimony, including the EEZ, is “infinitely more valuable” than coming up with an economic activity.

“He talks too much. We’ve already responded to all his opinions and he should look at himself on the mirror and admit that he’s the one responsible for losing Scarborough Shoal,” Panelo said.

‘Irresponsible, reckless’

It was “extremely irresponsible” for President Duterte to make a “reckless pronouncement” that his administration will ignore the 2016 arbitral court ruling repudiating Beijing’s South China Sea claim, supposedly just to spur “economic activity” in the country’s exclusive economic zone, Vice President Leni Robredo said yesterday.

In a statement, Robredo reminded the President that his handling of the West Philippine Sea issue will have impact on generations to come.

“It will affect the lives not just of our generation of Filipinos, but that of our children, and our children’s children. We must take great care in ensuring that we are not trading away the long-term interests of our nation and our children for short-term profit,” she said.

“Guaranteeing a better future for our children is perhaps one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities of any administration. Selling that future for a gas deal with China is a shameful way of abandoning that responsibility,” she added.

Duterte on Tuesday said he is willing to ignore the arbitral ruling to ensure economic activity inside the country’s EEZ, including Chinese-led exploration activity.

He said Xi wants the arbitral ruling set aside so that a joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea with China could proceed and unlock for the Philippines a “generous” 60 percent share in revenues.

But Robredo noted that even Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has emphasized that there is no need to set aside the 2016 ruling for the joint project to move forward.

“Entering into any agreement should not come at the expense of upholding our rights to the West Philippine Sea,” the Vice President said.

“Our own Constitution already grants the State ample authority to enter into agreements with foreign entities for exploration and development of oil and gas resources, provided that these shall lead to ‘real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.’ Why, then, was this reckless pronouncement made?” she added.

The Vice President also countered the argument of the President that there are only two choices available for the Philippine for dealing with the issue — capitulation or conflict.

“Again, as a number of respected authorities have done so before, I must point out that this is not true. Open warfare is far from the sole means of asserting our rights to our exclusive economic zone, as our neighboring nations Vietnam and Indonesia have recently and repeatedly proven,” she said.

“The strongest anchor to our claim must be consistency—in our official positions, in our negotiations, and in the statements of our top official,” she added.

Robredo said a firm and consistent assertion of the country’s legal rights does not require a single shot being fired.

“Yet why do the President and his administration constantly fail at doing it? Why are the President and his administration the very ones who undermine our decisive victory before the arbitral tribunal in 2016 with remarks such as this?” she stressed.

Loan exceeds damage

Meanwhile, a militant fisherfolk group said the estimated P892.8 billion cost of environmental degradation caused by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea was way above the P459 billion loans and official development assistance being extended by China to the Philippines.

“The amount that China has caused in its destruction of the West Philippine Sea outweighs the burdensome loans that the Duterte government has been begging from the foreign aggressor,” the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said over the weekend. - Janvic Mateo, Ding Cervantes

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