MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said that now is not the right time to pursue the country's claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte issued the statement days after saying in Davao City that he will set aside the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that decided in favor of the Philippines over China.
"In the play of politics now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling,” Duterte said.
"I will not impose anything on China. Why? Because the politics here in Southeast Asia is changing," he added.
He was referring to China's moves to militarize its man-made islands in the West Philippine Sea.
China has deployed anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on the artificial islets it has built in the disputed Spratly Islands, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in findings reported by Reuters.
Duterte on Monday said he will only "delay"the Philippines' claim on the West Philippine Sea.
"Tayo may (arbitral ruling) gusto nila i-push ko. Bakit ako maghanap ng away? Ipadala ako Marines? We have no might, not this time," Duterte said.
(We have won an arbitral ruling. They want me to pursue it. Why would I look for a fight? What? Do you want me to send the Marines? We have no might, not this time.)
The president added that he would still pursue the claim, albeit at a later time.
"We will have to take this up, but not now. But I will bring this up. Alam ng ambassador dito (The ambassador here knows about it). I will bring this up someday, during my time," he explained.
The president also believes there are other more important things to worry about.
"What do I do with Scarborough Shoal? Swim there every day? Send soldiers there? Let's start with domestic problems first.... Maganda na economy, it's hitting 7, so ‘wag na nating sirain."
(The economy is doing well. It is hitting 7. Let us not mess that up.)
Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also said Monday that Duterte wants to build confidence and trust with Chinese leaders.
"We have to bear in mind that since President Duterte assumed office, he has been revitalizing bilateral ties with China. His administration has been building confidence and trust with Chinese leaders and we expect this to continue, until such time that we achieve a trust level that will allow us to discuss the more sensitive issues in our bilateral relations," Andanar said.
Andanar said the government will not deviate from the ruling when dealing with the Chinese on the issue of West Philippine Sea.
"The Philippine government reaffirms its respect for and strict adherence to this milestone ruling and will be guided by its parameters when tackling the issue of maritime claims in the South China Sea," Andanar said. – with reports from Zen Hernandez and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Reuters