MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte administration will prioritize the national interest regardless of the United Nations-backed abritral tribunal's ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute between the Philippines and China, Malacañang said on Tuesday, July 12.
"The top priority will be the national interest," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a news briefing hours before the arbitral tribunal was to release its decision on the Philippines' case against the regional giant.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, is set to announce the decision on the case at 5 pm on Tuesday.
Abella said only one official is authorized to speak on the ruling in behalf of the administration – Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, who has been under fire in recent days because of his statements on the sea row that ran against the Philippine government's official position. (READ: DFA chief clarifies statement on China, again)
"The DFA Secretary will be the sole spokesperson regarding the matter," he said, saying the Palace is not likely to issue its own statement on the historic decision.
Abella's press briefing below:
Asked for scenarios in case of a favorable or unfavorable decision, Abella said the matter is still being studied.
"Everything will have to be subject to a discussion. After all, it's going to be a lengthy decision and there will be a number of details that need to be properly threshed out before…any decision is made publicly," Abella said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will wait for the international court's ruling before deciding on his administration's next steps regarding the disputed West Philippine Sea.
But he is perceived by China as more receptive than the previous administration. He has said he is open to bilateral negotiations with the Asian giant and is open to sharing natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, the same position taken by then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which paved the way for the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU).
Duterte has met with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua 3 times within 3 months. In one of the meetings, he responded positively to China's offer to build railways for the Philippines.
In his first Cabinet meeting, Duterte said he preferred not to "flaunt" a favorable decision from The Hague, as part of his "soft landing" approach to ties with China. This has made analysts wonder how he will use the decision as leverage. – 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.