PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said he is willing to share oil resources with Beijing after pronouncing that the country could set aside a UN tribunal ruling in Manila’s favor, given the Philippines’ inability to protect its territory from Chinese military intrusions.
In his speech Monday, Duterte proposed that the Philippines and China instead share any oil found in the mineral-rich oil disputed waters.
“There will be a day, I told Xi Jinping, that we will have to take this up. But not now because I am here as a visitor. I cannot talk about it because I’m a visitor here. But I will bring this up,” the President said before awardees of the 2016 Search for Outstanding Government Workers at Malacañang.
“I will bring this up, someday, but it will be during my time, that I have this arbitral award, so I have to push it. If you want, let’s just develop the oil there, and go half-and-half. What will I do with the sea?”
Duterte said sending Marines to wrest back control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which China seized in 2012, was not a viable alternative.
“They’d be wiped out in just one minute. There’ll be a disaster,” he said.
“What will I do with the Scarborough Shoal? Swim there everyday? For what? To send my soldiers there to die? Floating?”
Over the weekend, Duterte said he was willing to set aside a UN tribunal’s decision that invalidated China’s claim over much of the South China Sea, a ruling that favored the Philippines.
Critics warned that the administration’s refusal to do anything to stop Beijing weakens any moves in the future to defend the country’s territory.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said that if the Philippines does not formally protest, China can later claim that the Philippines consented, or at least acquiesced, to China’s military fortifications in the Spratlys, including Mischief Reef.
The Palace on Tuesday took a step back from the President’s statement on the sharing of oil resources, saying it was not the policy of the government to share natural resources in the disputed waters.
Any such arrangement would be between Filipino and Chinese companies, he said.
“This is not a government-to-government agreement, it’s between Philippine and Chinese businesses,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
On Monday, Duterte said he will take up the arbitral ruling with Beijing at a later time, but will not give in to Washington’s pressure to press China on the issue now.
Beijing appeared receptive of Duterte’s remarks that he will set aside the arbitral ruling.
“We welcome and appreciate President Duterte’s relevant remarks. We believe that President Duterte’s policy on dealing with the arbitral ruling over the South China Sea issue coincides with the common interests of the two countries and their people, and shows the constantly deepening mutual trust and friendship,” said Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said.
Hua said that since the successful visit of Duterte, the China-Philippines ties have achieved full and sustained improvement, bilateral mutual trust enhanced, all-around pragmatic cooperation in various fields extended and progress achieved.
“China is ready to continue to work with the Philippine side, increase constantly the political mutual trust and handle properly the maritime issues so as to achieve the common development of the two countries,” the Chinese official said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday said the President’s remarks on setting aside the UN tribunal ruling would imperil the national interest.
“To set aside the tribunal’s ruling does not redound to our interest as a nation. With due respect, such a pronouncement imperils the national interest in favor of China,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan pointed out that the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized the Philippines’ territorial rights over some 531,000-square kilometers within the exclusive economic zone and the extended continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
He said this area of 531,000 square kilometers of maritime space includes fisheries and oil, gas and mineral resources found within the area exclusive to Filipinos.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Duterte’s statement on the tribunal’s ruling was part of his plan to pivot towards China, away from the US and Western democracies.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian called on the President to clarify what he meant by setting aside the ruling, saying the tribunal’s decision boosts the legitimacy of the Philippines’ territorial claims.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said he believes that the Philippines would be better off pivoting to an independent foreign policy position rather than siding with any of the big powers, China included.
“Our motto should be: ‘Friend to all, but subservient to none.’ In other words, amity to all, hostility to no one,” Recto said.
Recto said foreign policy rebalancing should not mean that “we dump old friends for new suitors.”
“So what’s the advantage of running away from the claws of the American eagle only to rush to the embrace of a Chinese or Russian bear?” Recto said.
Recto said the Philippines must maintain friendship with all nations, even those it has “ongoing differences” with.
“We must continuously engage, not disengage,” he said.