MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he would seek a “soft landing” after a United Nations-backed tribunal decides on the Philippines’ protest against China’s sea claims in two weeks.
While a favorable ruling for Manila would be a “moral victory,” Duterte said it would also put the government in an “awkward position.”
“It should be a soft landing for everybody, kung meron man, we don’t taunt or flaunt it… We will study progressively kung paano natin magamit,” he said in a televised Cabinet meeting immediately after he was sworn into office.
Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, had asked the Hague-based Arbitral Tribunal to declare as invalid Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. A ruling is expected on July 12.
China responded to the Philippines’ legal challenge by building massive structures fit for military use on the disputed reefs.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the ruling could go either way and must be studied carefully.
The decision could also provoke China, he said.
“What if in the face of these circumstances, China will dig in and put us to a test? They will disallow again our fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal,” Yasay said, referring to an outcrop that China has held since 2012, following a tense naval standoff with Philippine ships.
“When the decision will come, we will advise. We will study the case and inform the President and the Cabinet,” Yasay said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which hosts vital shipping gains over vast oil and gas reserves.
Aside from the Philippines, its claims overlap with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.