MANILA - (4th UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he wants former President Fidel V. Ramos as the Philippines' special envoy to China following an international tribunal's ruling on the disputed West Philippine Sea.
"I would like to respectfully ask (former President Fidel Ramos) to go to China and start the talks," Duterte said at the San Beda testimonial dinner held at Club Filipino in San Juan.
Duterte's made the offer after explaining the post-arbitration predicament during the dinner.
"War? It is not an option. So what is the other side? Peaceful talks. I cannot give you the wherewithals now, I have to consult many people, including (former) President Ramos," he said.
"We gain nothing, but we also do not want to offend the United States. Why? Because we have identified ourselves allied with the Western powers. So there's an interest that we also should not forget, our interests and the interest of our allies," Duterte added.
According to Duterte, it is important to be "careful" in dealing with China so as not to create bigger problems not only for the Philippines, but for other countries as well.
"You know, there are a lot of complications there. Because now that the tribunal has ruled, 'yung arbitral decision says that, and if China would insist on a space domain, that you have to identify yourself before you can cross that vast sea there. America will not like it. "
"Alam mo 'pag nagsara 'yan [air space and sea lanes], lahat 'yan tataas, because even the insurance of the cargo and the boats, tataas. It would create another problem for our economy and somebody else's finances. So, careful tayo diyan," he added.
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Meanwhile, Ramos, in an ambush interview after Duterte's speech, said the president may only have been joking.
"I think he just made that in jest because I'm busy writing my legacy for you young people and China is only one of my areas of interest," he said.
"I have not seen the offer. I was out of range when he said it," Ramos added.
The Duterte administration is taking the bilateral approach in dealing with China over the maritime row.
In a text message, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said talking with China was among the options discussed in the Cabinet meeting after the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling came out, and that negotiating with China is unavoidable.
"That was when we were discussing the different responses/options which the Philippines may take after the ruling was issued. We have to talk with China. We could not avoid it," Aguirre said.
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After his presidency, one of the activities of Ramos was to attend the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) held annually in Boao, Hainan province in China. The BFA is an Asian forum initiated by Ramos and 2 other leaders to discuss regional issues and global concerns. The Ramos Peace and Development Foundation Inc. is a founding member of the BFA.
The former President's sister, former senator and foreign relations committee chairman Leticia Ramos-Shahani, earlier urged Duterte to "not sell the country" when his administration negotiates with Beijing after an international court upheld the Philippines' right to exploit resources in disputed waters.
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The diplomatic wrangling that would follow the landmark ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) would be like a high-stakes game of poker, with Duterte holding the winning hand, Ramos-Shahani said.
"The decision of the arbitration court is the ace in his hand," Shahani told a media roundtable on Wednesday.
Shahani said Duterte should be surrounded by the "right advisers." She also suggested appointing an ambassador to Beijing who speaks "perfect Chinese."
"You might be selling your country down the river and you won't know that you're doing it," she said. -- with reports from Bettina Magsaysay, Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
READ: Duterte urged to be wary on China talks