Duterte wants to stop joint patrols in West PH Sea

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants to stop joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) even after an arbitral tribunal had ruled in favor of the country's legal claim over the territory.

“We will not join any expedition or patrolling. I will not allow it because I do not want my country to be involved in a hostile act,” Duterte said on Tuesday, September 13, during the anniversary of the Presidential Airlift Wing at Villamor Air Base.

Duterte wants to take out joint patrols in waters that an arbitral tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands had declared belongs to the Philippines and not to China.

The Philippines, aside from its own maritime patrols, engages in joint patrols with the United States.

Joint maritime patrols with the US were launched in the West Philippine Sea in April this year, several months after the Supreme Court upheld the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), activities that had angered China.

Both countries, in fact, announced at the time that they would be conducting more.

“Even if it’s really owned by us, which the judgment says it’s ours; entitlements, China would say. That's beside my point.  The point is, I do not want to ride gung-ho style there with China or with America. I just want to patrol our territorial waters,” said Duterte in a mix of English and Filipino.

Territorial waters only

The President said he would only allow patrols within territorial waters, or the 12 nautical miles of sea emanating from Philippine coastlines that are considered sovereign territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

He said the parts of the West Philippine Sea”won” by the Philippines belong to the country’s exclusive economic zone and not territorial waters.

‘Yung pinanalo natin but it is not part of our territory, it is a part of our exclusive economic zone – ‘yung mga isda, ‘yung mga makita mo diyan, pati ‘yung sa baba, ‘yung oil and gas. But the territory is limited to the 12-mile limit. Hanggang diyan lang tayo. We do not want to go to any patrol,” said Duterte.

(We won it but it is not part of our territory, it is a part of our exclusive economic zone – the fish, what you see there, even the oil and gas. But the territory is limited to the 12 [nautical] mile limit. We’re only until there. We do not want to go to any patrol.)

The increased operations were part of the US commitment to increase military aid to the Philippines as China continued its reclamation activities in the disputed waters.

Top US officials have urged the Philippines to use the Hague ruling against China. US President Barack Obama himself has said the ruling is “binding” though Beijing continues to reject the decision.

On Monday, September 12, Duterte said he wanted US troops to stay out of Mindanao. But on Tuesday, he clarified that he will not cut the Philippines' strategic alliances.

Duterte has said he wants the Philippines to pursue an independent foreign policy while abiding by its commitments to its allies. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.