MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sounded determined to raise the historic 2016 Hague ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his upcoming visit to China later this month.
He claims he is rejecting pleas from certain persons asking him not to raise the arbitral ruling during the trip.
"Ang sabi nila, hindi pag-usapan. Sabi ko, 'No.' (They said not to talk about it. I said, 'No.') If I am not allowed as a president of [a] sovereign nation to talk [about] whatever I want to talk about, then let us not bother to talk altogether. Huwag na (Never mind). Do not control my mouth because that is a gift from God," said Duterte on Wednesday, August 21.
He was giving a speech at the inauguration of a hybrid solar and diesel power plant in Romblon.
Duterte made it clear that his plan to raise the Hague ruling is closely tied with developments to joint oil and gas exploration with China.
"We have to talk about the arbitral ruling and if there is a start to the exploration and in the extraction of whatever wealth there is in the bowels of the earth. The proposal of 60-40 in our favor would be a good start. I hope that it would graduate towards how we would solve the arbitral ruling," said the Philippine leader.
Whatever natural resources are to be found in the West Philippine Sea, China must "share" with the Philippines, he added. (READ: 'Oil is everything' – Duterte's rhetoric on West PH Sea joint exploration)
"Let us talk about what is there, you have to share with us. Any other adventures or expeditions in the marine oceans of our exclusive economic zone will have a direct bearing on that arbitral ruling," said Duterte.
China and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding on joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea in November 2018. In it, the two countries agreed to produce "cooperation agreements" on oil and gas exploration and exploitation by November 2019.
Duterte emphasized that he is not seeking a fight with China, reiterating that he wants to avoid war with the Asian power at all costs.
But he said discussing the arbitral ruling is part of diplomacy and a peaceful resolution to the sea row.
"We talk to resolve this problem peacefully. Now tell me, how do we start to solve the problem peacefully? There has got to be something. You just cannot talk air," said Duterte.
Since 2016, when he became president, Duterte has promised in speeches that he would raise the Hague ruling before his term ends in 2022.
This was in response to critics who slammed his shelving of the historic decision in exchange for warmer ties with China and the promise of loans, grants, and other economic deals.
Observers are waiting if Duterte will fulfill his promise during the China trip.
His visit comes after a series of incursions by Chinese warships in Sibutu Strait in the Sulu Sea and in Balabac Strait near Palawan. In response, Duterte issued a rare warning: that any foreign vessel passing through Philippine territorial waters without prior notification may be dealt with in an "unfriendly manner." – 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.