China must follow arbitration ruling, Duterte says

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

DAVAO CITY – China must follow a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal’s ruling on the Philippines’ petition to nullify its vast claims on the South China Sea, incoming president Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday.

The arbitral tribunal is expected to hand out is ruling on the potential flash point region this year. China has built massive structures on reefs and outcrops to reinforce its claim while the United States has sent air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

Duterte said China must abide by the decision even as his government sought to partner with the superpower for sorely-needed infrastructure projects.

"If there’s an arbitration, we expect China will follow," the 71-year-old maverick mayor told reporters.

"Just because you’re building me the railway, doesn’t mean I am abandoning Scarborough Shoal," he said, referring to a Philippine-claimed outcrop that China has held since 2012, following a tense naval standoff.

Duterte earlier said he would ride a jet ski to plant the Philippine flag on a Chinese-held reef in the disputed Spratlys even if it would cost him his life.

"I told you, that is ours, you have no right to be there," he said on Saturday.

China claims almost the entire South Philippine Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves beneath major shipping lanes.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the area.