Duterte eyes multilateral talks in disputed sea


Presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that if he won the election, he would call for multilateral talks to resolve disputes over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

He said the talks should include the United States and Japan as well as rival claimants.

"This is how it is. America, maybe Japan and Australia, want a multilateral roundtable discussion of the issue because it's not only the Philippines, which is really claiming that piece of property there," Duterte told journalists at a news conference in Davao City.

"I don't think that anybody now is interested in getting to war. And so we are allied with America, we will agree to a multilateral participation if there is one coming," he added.

Duterte also said China should respect the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the waters off its coast and, instead of facing off, the two countries could work together in exploiting offshore oil and gas as joint-venture partners.

"I will say to China, do not claim anything there. And I will not insist also that it is ours. But then I will just keep a blind eye and if you want a joint venture, fine, to get the gas and oil," Duterte said.

He was speaking while an unofficial vote count rolled in on the presidential election that showed him with a commanding lead over his rivals.

Figures from the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, which is accredited by the election commission, showed Duterte with more than 9 million votes at the halfway stage of counting, or 39 percent of the total.

His nearest rival Grace Poe had 22.2 percent of the vote.

The Philippines, under incumbent President Benigno Aquino's administration, has strongly opposed China's occupation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, which over 90 percent it has claimed. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

The Philippines has challenged Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a case Beijing has not recognized.