MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines and China are "ignoring" the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea in order to push through with joint oil and gas exploration there.
"Kasi 'yang (Because that) – the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is part of the arbitral ruling which we will ignore to come up with an economic activity," Duterte said on Tuesday, September 10, in an interview with reporters.
He had been asked if the planned joint exploration agreements would cover even areas in the West Philippine Sea not being claimed by China.
Duterte did not elaborate on his statement.
Why does this matter? The 2016 arbitral ruling, handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, invalidated China's expansive claim to the South China Sea. It was a stunning victory for the Philippines as it affirmed the country's rights over the critical water body, rich in natural resources.
Duterte has been cautioned by maritime experts against making any statements that appear to downplay the ruling as this would be playing into China's hands.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, calling it a mere piece of "waste paper."
Duterte and Malacañang built a lot of hype around his plan to raise the arbitral ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing last August.
But in subsequent public statements, Duterte revealed he himself knew no real change would come out of the mention.
Meanwhile, the Philippines and China moved forward with their plans to jointly explore for and exploit natural resources in the West Philippine Sea. During the August visit to China, groups were formed to implement a memorandum of understanding on the venture.
Duterte blasts Del Rosario, Carpio. In the same Tuesday gathering, Duterte again blamed former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario for the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal standoff that led China to take control of the critical feature.
"Ikaw ang pinakagagong nakita kong Filipino (You are the most foolish Filipino I ever saw)," he said about Del Rosario.
The ex-foreign affairs chief has been outspoken about Duterte's approach to China but had approved of the President's plan to raise the arbitral ruling with Xi.
Duterte also said if the Philippines and China were to go to war, he would hide in the military ship's kitchen while Del Rosario and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio should be on the frontlines.
"I want Del Rosario and Carpio leading the way. Ako, magtago lang sa kusina ng barko (Me, I will hide in the ship's kitchen)," said the Commander-in-chief of the country's Armed Forces.
Duterte often raises the possibility of war with China to justify why he isn't doing more to assert the Hague ruling. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.