While President Rodrigo Duterte has set aside Manila's maritime row with Beijing, the South China Sea row may still be tackled when the Chief Executive visits China next week.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the matter may be discussed when Duterte meets his counterpart, Xi Jinping. The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements to boost ties between the Philippines and China.
"We expect all areas of interest to be discussed including the South China Sea. I don't know how things will emerge but I imagine this will be taken up in the meeting of the President with President Xi Jinping," he said in a press briefing.
"We leave it to the President’s wisdom and judgment as to when he thinks the time is appropriate to bring up this matter with the Chinese."
Duterte's October 18 to 21 state visit to China will be the first meeting between the heads of states of the two countries in five years, after ties were loosened when the Aquino administration decided to file a case against China before an arbitral tribunal.
Last July, 12 days after Duterte took office, the international tribunal handed the Philippines a surprisingly resounding victory, ruling that China's claims to most of the sea had no legal basis and that its artificial island-building was illegal.
Instead of using the verdict to pressure China as his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, would have done, Duterte sought to mend ties with Beijing.
He also launched a sustained verbal assault on the United States, scrapping the joint patrols as well as a series of annual war games.
During the election campaign, Duterte said he was willing to "set aside" the South China Sea dispute in return for China building a railway through the impoverished southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
He also said it was not in the nation's interest to insist on its claim over Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone that China seized in 2012.
"Let's just not dwell on Scarborough because we cannot fight them," Duterte said this week.
DUTERTE TO VISIT REHAB CENTERS
Aside from discussing bilateral agreements, Duterte is also set to "visit some law enforcement and drug rehabilitation centers" in China, the DFA said.
The President is also expected to meet with the Filipino community in China, and deliver the keynote address at the Trade and Investment Forum, which will be attended by Filipino and Chinese investors.
"With this visit by President Duterte, the Philippines hopes to strengthen the bilateral ties between the Philippines and China through mutual respect and sincere cooperation for the prosperity and benefit of both countries and their peoples," Jose said.
Before leaving for Beijing, Duterte is first scheduled to fly to Brunei on October 16 for a state visit where he will hold bilateral talks with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.
"Brunei was scheduled to be the first ASEAN country to be visited by the President this year. However, due to the unfortunate bombing incident in Davao City last September 2, 2016, the President’s visit to Brunei was rescheduled to a later date," Jose said.
Duterte's delegation to China has yet to be finalized, but a group of businessmen who signified their intention to join the trip will be "traveling on their own expense," the DFA said. With a report by Agence France Press