FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Wednesday no country had the right to tell the Philippines what to do over its territorial dispute with China.
Cayetano issued the statement after Japan, Australia and the United States urged the Philippines and China to abide by the ruling of the UN Arbitral Tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s claim to much of the disputed South China Sea.
“We expect nations not to tell us what to do. They have their own foreign policy and interests,” Cayetano said.
“Japan, Australia, and the US are our friends. The US is our treaty ally. But we told countries around the world we are sovereign. We’ll decide what is good for us, we will decide what strategies are good for us because we are a sovereign nation,” Cayetano said.
“We respect their views but the… territorial dispute between China and fhe Philippine is between China and the Philippines,” he said.
In a joint statement released earlier, the foreign ministers of the three countries said the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal, which favored the Philippines, was “final and legally binding.”
“We are not pro-China, pro-US, pro-Japan, pro-whatever. We are pro-Philippines and pro-Asean because we were good friends with China, good friends with Japan, and good friends with theUS and we appreciate not to be told what to do,” Cayetano said.
The previous administration had brought the dispute to the Arbitral Tribunal but China rejected the court’s authority and refused to participate in the hearings. The court released its decision after President Rodrigo Duterte came to power and reversed the previous administration’s diplomatic thrust.
Cayetano said Duterte plans to raise the issue on arbitration “at a proper time.”
“The President just uses the phrase ‘at the right time’ and I trust him that he knows the right time or the right circumstances,” Cayetano said.
He said the Philippines would not be able to negotiation with China or boost economic ties with it if the country kept pushing for the arbitral ruling.
“We won’t be able to build trust or negotiate if we....put threats or conditions,” Cayetano said.
Duterte has said it is setting aside the arbitral ruling to focus on improving economic ties with China.
His decision to put the Trubunal ruling on the back burner brought in billions of pesos in loans from China.
Meanwhile, the Philippines is talking with other countries to jointly explore “non-disputed” areas to prepare for the eventual loss of the Malampaya gas field in about 10 years, Cayetano said.
He said he was keen to discuss the framework, once it is final, with other claimants, including China, to discuss joint oil exploration in the disputed area.
“We’re looking for a framework that will keep under our Constitution and will be acceptable to claimants in the area. So if it’s an area claimed by only China and the Philippines, only we will discuss the matter,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano did not identify which other claimants are being approached, or which areas he wanted to open up for joint exploration.
The Reed Bank, which is withing the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, is also claimed by China.
Malampaya is located in northwest Palawan, and accounts for 40 percent of Luzon’s power supply.
President Duterte had mentioned joint exploration but Chinese President Xi Jinping said China would go to war if the Philippines began exploration in the Reed Bank.
Critics have warned that joint exploration deals would violate the Constitution.
But Cayetano said he is working closely with the Energy Department to come up with a joint exploration framework that would not violate the Constitution or any Philippine laws.
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