MANILA, Philippines — Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario on Thursday responded to President Rodrigo Duterte's claim that the previous administration lost the West Philippine Sea to China, saying it was the president who disregarded the arbitral win in 2016 in exchange for billions in investments.
President Rodrigo Duterte, in a recorded message on Wednesday night, took jabs at Del Rosario and ex-Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, saying they are to blame for Beijing's presence in the West Philippine Sea.
He said China was already assuming "that it was theirs" when he became president. Duterte has played down the maritime dispute over the years, saying there is little that the Philippines can do since China has a powerful military.
Del Rosario was DFA chief during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, when Manila's ties with Beijing soured over the territorial dispute. In a statement, Del Rosario said they had expected the new administration to push the arbitral win for Filipinos' benefit.
"Instead, President Duterte did not waste time in advancing his declared embrace of Xi Jinping when he very quickly shelved the Arbitral Award in exchange for a promised $24 billion in Chinese investments and assistance," he said, "which, until now, has not materialized."
He said too that China "deceitfully breached" its agreement with the Philippines in 2012, when the latter withdrew its ship in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the former did not order its 30 or more vessels to leave.
Earlier Thursday, Carpio also responded to Duterte's new comments, saying the country deserves, and should demand, "a president who loves Filipinos first and foremost, and who will uncompromisingly defend" its rights and sovereignty.
The maritime dispute made the headlines again in March as Chinese fishing vessels linger in the area of Julian Felipe (Whitesun) Reef, despite a series of diplomatic protests from the Philippines.
Del Rosario said Duterte has fully accepted China's narrative that pushing Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea would lead to war. He said the narrative is only meant to "sow fear and deter the Filipino people from asserting their internationally recognized rights in the West Philippine Sea."
"With due respect, as the incumbent commander-in-chief of our military, we urge the president to do his utmost to protect the West Philippine Sea and to be most wary of China's duplicity," he added. — Christian Deiparine with reports from Patricia Lourdes Viray