MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines hailed its improved ties with China as it marked the first anniversary of its legal victory against China over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Wednesday, July 12.
The Philippines, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, also called itself a "regional peacemaker" after adopting "positive neighborly relations" with China.
This comes a year after the Philippines on July 12, 2016, won a historic case against China in The Hague, which the Duterte administration has downplayed to nurture better ties with the world's second largest economy. (READ: Duterte foreign policy: Independent but isolated)
In a statement Wednesday morning, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Duterte administration "reaffirms its unwavering commitment" to protect the islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The government, however, "believes that the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea should further be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of good neighborly relations."
"The Philippine approach has led to great benefits for the country, allowing us considerable economic gains as well as strengthening our status as ASEAN Chair and regional peacemaker," the DFA explained.
"Through the adoption of positive neighborly relations, our fishermen are back exercising their livelihood in Scarborough Shoal. We have received investment and financial assistance commitments upwards of $30 billion from our partners in the region. These significant developments have likewise allowed our defense resources to also address other pressing security concerns facing the country," it added.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also said the Duterte administration "is committed to its strategy to strengthen old allies and engage new partner nations."
"The Philippines shall remain an enemy to none and a friend to all in its pursuit of economic and political benefits for the country, including the long-term security and stability in the region," the DFA said.
Duterte has repeatedly vowed never to give up the Philippines' claim over the West Philippine Sea.
The President, however, said he will not insist on enforcing the Philippines' legal victory against China over the disputed waters. He claimed that China warned him of war if he asserts the Philippines' case.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.