Ex-DFA chief hits Duterte over 'selling' West PH Sea islands

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario criticized President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, April 11, for saying he "can sell" disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) islands to China if the Philippines gets "very rich."

In a press conference in Saudi Arabia, however, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella downplayed Duterte's statement as a "lighthearted way of saying that we're friends" with China.

Reacting to Duterte's words, Del Rosario said that "spur of the moment statements should be avoided," as "suggested earlier" by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

In a text message, Del Rosario explained, "It puts us in a poor strategic position without the benefit of flexibility, especially if there is a need to negotiate."

Referring to China, he added, "It gives our northern neighbor the political momentum to persist in its unlawful expansion agenda."

Del Rosario also said that the legality of Duterte's statements "is not clear and should be studied."

"It could be a very thin line since it can be further argued that the Palace is not faithfully executing its role to defend what is ours," he added.

Duterte: 'I can sell the land'

Del Rosario issued this statement after Duterte, before his flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said that the Philippines does not mean harm to China, and "we are friends, as a matter of fact."

"And maybe when we get rich, very rich, I can sell the land to you for — inyo na (it's yours). When the spectacle of a war is gone, nothing is dangerous to the Philippines," the President added.

In Riyadh, where Duterte is making a two-day state visit, Abella explained the President's statements as a "lighthearted remark."

Abella said: "Basically it was a lighthearted way of saying that we're friends. Basically he was underlining that."

"And if you notice, the context, it says when there's no more trouble, when we're rich enough, in a sense that's really, I think, that is in the far future, that will be the end result of our friendship and negotiations with China," Duterte's spokesman added. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.