Duterte to assert Philippines win in sea row

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would assert the Philippines’ victory in an international court before his term ends in 2020 to get back the territory now occupied by China, as he blamed former President Benigno Aquino III and the United States for their failure to stop China from occupying and militarizing the disputed South China Sea some eight years ago.

“Before my term ends, I will have to demand to talk about this arbitration. I cannot let my administration pass without really insisting because I am doing it for my country. I am not doing it for myself,” the President said in his speech during the 37th Philippine Principals Training and Development Program and National Board Conference in Davao City on Friday.

In related developments:

• An opposition lawmaker on Saturday urged Malacañang to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Philippines as provided in its published National Security Policy for 2017-2022.

Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano made the call following overt militarization efforts of China in the South China Sea with installation of missiles as the most recent one.

Alejano noted that since 2016, the Duterte administration had shifted to China instead of pursuing a genuine ‘independent foreign policy’.

“When Duterte sidelined the favorable ruling of the UN arbitral tribunal, we know this so-called independent foreign policy is a farce,” Alejano said.

• China should strictly abide by international law if it wants to become a superpower and have claims on the disputed South China Sea, UP political science professor Dr. Clarita Carlos said Saturday.

Carlos said the Philippines used to seek assistance from the US on the disputed seas, but with US President Donald Trump challenging China’s territorial waters and air space as well, Philippines has been put on the sidelines.

The UP professor said that in the meanwhile “diplomatic protest is the most we can do.”

• In Singapore, a veteran foreign diplomat has advised the Duterte administration to stay calm amid China’s reported installation of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems in the South China Sea.

Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former permanent secretary at the Foreign Ministry and founding dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, admitted that the situation would become difficult but the Philippines should not escalate the issue.

“I think it will become more and more difficult definitely. It is important to stay very calm because the last thing you want is to have any kind of a conflict with China in the South China Sea,” Mahbubani told GMA News Online at the sidelines of the 2nd Asean Media Forum Friday afternoon, in reply to a question.

He said China might see the issue as putting them under the spotlight.

“If you escalate the issue now, at the time when the Chinese feel already under some pressure from the United States, they will see this as a coordinated move to try to embarrass them. So they [Philippines] have to be very careful,” he said.

American news network CNBC reported on Wednesday, quoting US intelligence assessments, that the missiles were moved to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands within the past 30 days.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim jurisdiction over the islands.

Duterte in his speech said the US, a superpower with their seventh fleet stationed in the Philippines, did not do anything to stop China some eight years ago, saying US warships could have patrolled or put up a station in  the disputed region which could have prevented the building of artificial islands in the disputed SCS.

“You cannot build an island, artificial island on the high seas. That’s not allowed. And the only country who could have stopped them was America,” the President said.

He said the US was already around when the arbitration was being heard.

“I’m sure seven or eight years ago, there were already intelligence reports over flights by so many countries, including ours, that something was afoot there, that they were trying to build reclamation. At that time, because it’s a violation of the International Law of the Seas, UNCLOS, the only country who could have stopped the Chinese was America,”  he said.

The President also faulted the Aquino administration  who filed an arbitration case which the country won.

“He was still there. You won. Aquino was still there then, not so many months there. Why he had not visited or warned them? Then when he left, there were already some additional—well, accretion, but artificial,” the Chief Executive said.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said China had no historical rights to the resource-rich waters but China refuses to recognize the ruling.

Duterte claimed the reclamation in the disputed region could have been prevented  had  his predecessor initiated the international ruling.

“You claim it by historical right; by judgment, we won and it’s ours,’ he said.

However, the President admitted he would not go to war with China and preferred to have to explore diplomatic means to resolve the issue.

“Manila and the nearest military airport of  China is only 17 minutes away. If you declare war,  pulpog tayo lahat. Well, that is the reality of it,” he added.

Pulpog is a Cebuano term that means pulverized.

China, for over several years, has taken a more assertive stance in the SCS, and transformed previously submerged features into artificial islands with multi-level buildings and runways.

According to US intelligence reports, China has installed missiles on the three areas, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Reef being claimed by the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government has viewed the matter with concern but they were still verifying the reports that China installed missiles in the disputed region.

“Let me begin by saying we are still verifying. Everything that we have read on the papers is based on a US media report, which really we should not completely rely on, okay. So we are first verifying if it is true, and we have not had any verification,” the Palace spokesperson said.

“If it is verified of course, we view it with much concern, because any form of militarization of, really, in the West Philippine Sea is worrisome given that it is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. Okay, so that is our concern. It is a concern common to the international community,” Roque said.

In 2017, the Duterte administration drafted and released its NSP for 2017-2022.

The document contains enumeration of national interests which includes “Safeguard of the Philippine territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Alejano reiterated the NSP and reminded the Duterte administration to abide by its own national security policy.

“The NSP identifies safeguarding of territorial integrity and sovereignty as one of our national interests. Under this, the objectives that the Duterte administration is expected to fulfill include “pursue international support for a rules-based regime in West Philippine Sea” and “respect the Award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration” while engaging claimant states for the management and settlement of disputes. May I remind this administration of its own policy,” Alejano said.

The Philippines is counting on China to advance the bulk of the estimated $7.5-billion cost of a new natural gas project in the West Philippine Sea under a proposed joint exploration and development agreement, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said on Saturday.

“This is the reason why we are bringing the Chinese in—for them to shoulder the cost—because we simply do not have the wherewithal to develop a second deep-water gas field there,” Atienza said.

“Everybody is convinced that we have vast gas deposits in the West Philippine Sea Basin. The only problem is where to drill the wells precisely to hit the biggest reservoir,” Atienza said.

“In fact, we gave the Dutch and the British 45 percent, and the Americans another 45 percent in Malampaya,” Atienza said, referring to the country’s first offshore gas project located some 65 kilometers northwest of Palawan.

But Alejano stressed the need for maritime boundary delimitation and the enactment of laws on Maritime Zones and Archipelagic Sea Lanes and those in pursuit of our international commitments as also stated in the NSP.

“Especially with China’s non-recognition of the PCA ruling and continuous determination to lay claim on the whole South China Sea, it is imperative that we clarify our maritime boundary which will guide our assertions and actions in the West Philippine Sea,” Alejano said.


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