President Rodrigo Duterte will invoke Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory against China in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month, Malacañang said Tuesday.
READ: 3 years after arbitral win vs China sea claims
“There will be a time that I will invoke the arbitral ruling. This is the time,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a briefing, quoting the President.
The territorial dispute between the two countries is among the issues that will be discussed in the one-on-one meeting between Duterte and Xi, Panelo said.
The announcement came after the Palace confirmed that Duterte will visit China later this month, the fifth time he will have done so since he took office in 2016.
Asked about what prompted the President to assert the landmark ruling now after setting it aside for the last three years, Panelo said: “Because his term is about to end.”
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario welcomed the Palace pronouncement.
“Let us salute him [Duterte] and assure him of the support of all Filipinos,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
Later, Panelo said the incident in Recto Bank on June 9, where a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat and left its crew adrift in the open sea for hours, was another reason to bring up the ruling of the UN tribunal, which Beijing has refused to recognize.
But the President played down the incident, and said he had a verbal agreement with Xi in 2016 that allowed the fishermen of both countries to fish in the disputed waters. This admission drew heavy fire from critics, who said the 1987 Constitution insists that only Filipinos should enjoy the marine wealth within the Philippine territory.
Panelo was mum on how Duterte will invoke the 2016 ruling, Which invalidated China’s sweeping maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“It is up to the President how he will do that,” he said.
China, one of the claimants in the West Philippine Sea, has refused to recognize the decision of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration which ruled in favor of the Philippines.
The decision invalidated China’s nine-dash line as “excessive.”
China has been criticized for harassing fishermen from other countries, for building artificial islands where their military men are stationed, and for destroying marine resources in the seas.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said The Hague ruling on the West Philippine Sea should have been invoked by the Philippine government even before.
“We have to discuss it thoroughly. And this is timely because President Rodrigo Duterte will meet with [China] President Xi Jinping. It’s good that they talk about it. Because it’s there,” he said. “It’s there, it’s permanent. It cannot be appealed.”
Panelo said Duterte will also discuss the 60-40 sharing in the proposed joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
China has previously expressed its willingness to conduct joint exploration, with the Philippines getting the lion’s share of the 60-40 split.
No final region in the West Philippine Sea has been determined for the possible joint exploration. However, the Philippine government previously said that S-C 72 in Reed Bank may be a possible area for the exploration.
The Office of the President has yet to release the details of the Duterte-Xi meeting and no date has been set yet.
Meanwhile, the military reported that four more Chinese Navy warships have been monitored in the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi.
Military officials recommended the filing of another diplomatic protest against China for what they described as the uncoordinated passage of the ships through Philippine territory.
In a press briefing Monday in Puerto Princesa City, Vice Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Western Command, said one of the warships was monitored by operating units transiting the Balabac Strait at about 1:30 p.m. on June 17.
He said military operating units made challenges against the Chinese warships but they made no response.
Barely six hours after, Medina said another Chinese navy vessel was also sighted in the vicinity of Balabac waters.
Medina, however, said the second Chinese warship responded to the persistent challenges initiated by the Philippines but made no disclosure of any information “except its bow number.”
He said this was the basis for their recommendation that the DFA file a diplomatic protest.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, based on the recommendation of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., filed a diplomatic protest against China over the entry of four Chinese warships at Sibutu Strait in the Sulu Sea since February.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confronted Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, who was told to coordinate future passage of its vessels in Philippine waters.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said one of the largest American aircraft carriers entered Philippine waters on Tuesday.
The USS Reagan, the only aircraft carrier that is forward-deployed to the Indo-Pacific, will be open for a tour by the Philippine press, US officials said.
The European Union said the militarization of the South China Sea was threatening peace, echoing warnings from the US as pressure mounts against Beijing’s ambitions in the region.
China has been accused of deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels in the resource-rich sea, sparking ire from other claimants.
The US, EU, and Australia have all called for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which is also contested by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
On Monday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc was concerned over “increasing tension” in the area.
“We believe that this tension, this militarization, is definitely not conducive to a peaceful environment,” she added. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, and AFP