Palace: Nothing to retract in Duterte sea row remarks
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has nothing to retract in his remarks on the West Philippine Sea, his spokesperson said on Monday.
In his recent broadcasts, the president had said that China was in control of the West Philippine Sea. He also said the 2016 arbitral ruling against China’s claims, in its maritime dispute with the Philippines, was “a mere scrap of paper [that] should be thrown in the wastebasket.”
Duterte was referring to the Philippines’ arbitral case against China, which was filed before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague three years earlier by the administration of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
On Sunday, the president’s fellow alumni in San Beda University issued a “fraternal statement of concern,” urging him to retract his “defeatist statements” on the West Philippine Sea.
The statement was signed by at least 125 alumni, who argued that the President needed to retract his statements “in order that [these] will not be used as an admission against the interests of the Philippines.”
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also initiated an online petition last week in a bid to pressure Duterte to take back his remarks.
But presidential spokesperson Harry Roque explained that when Duterte said China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea, “he was referring to the loss of Scarborough Shoal and the truth that China now controls it.”
As for Duterte’s calling the arbitral ruling “a mere scrap of paper,” Roque said the president was referring, not to the merits of the decision, but to its lack of “established enforcement mechanism.”
Roque pointed out China’s being a member of the United Nations Security Council, on top of the council’s authority to maintain international peace and security under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
He said “unless you have [an application of] Chapter 7, … there is really no way to enforce [the arbitral ruling].”
“You can only hope that China, as a member state of the UN and as a permanent member of the Security Council, will, of course, comply with its obligations under international law,” Roque added.
He also cited Duterte’s online speech to the UN in September last year, asserting that the arbitral ruling was “part of international law” and that the Philippines “would firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”
On Sunday, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario suggested diplomatic steps that the Philippines might take against the presence of China’s ships in its exclusive economic zone.
In a statement, Del Rosario said the country must anticipate these ships remaining in large numbers there, as China “mov[es] forward its expansionist policy.”
He said the Philippines could formally notify the UN General Assembly, in order “to seek the support of responsible nations to compel China” to abide by the arbitral ruling.
He also suggested that the Philippines turn its protests against China into démarches, which are more “pointed, direct and purposive” protests.
The Philippines can recall its ambassador to Beijing, Del Rosario said. “We can also consider declaring specific Chinese official[s] persona non grata,” he added.
“We can… consider instructing our service posts to visit their host governments to explain what is happening with China,” Del Rosario said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, in a statement on Monday, criticized Malacañang for “exaggerat[ing]” China’s assistance to the Philippines.
She cited data by the Investor Relations Office which showed China ranking fifth among the Philippines’ sources of official development assistance, providing $600 million so far, and Japan remaining the top provider, with $11.2 billion.
“Malacañang should stop misleading the public. It should stop portraying China as the leading provider of aid and loans to the Philippines,” she said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MELVIN GASCON AND MARLON RAMOS
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