MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's commitment to international agreements with the territorial row in the West Philippine Sea in his first speech at the United Nations stands as the Philippines' "supreme expression of foreign policy" on the waterway's issue, according to the Department on Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The DFA issued this statement Friday, two days after Duterte likened Manila's arbitral victory — that invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims to the disputed waters — to a piece of "paper," which he said led to nothing.
"The Department will continue to implement the President's foreign policy statement in accordance with Philippine national interest," the foreign office said.
A United Nations-backed court in 2016 ruled in favor of Manila and junked Beijing's claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
In his first speech at the United Nations General Assembly last September, Duterte rejected what he called attempts to undermine the Philippines’ victory in the 2016 ruling. He vowed to keep its commitment to international agreements with the territorial row in the disputed waters.
But Duterte caused another public uproar Wednesday after he said that if the arbitral ruling was given during his time as the President, instead of then-President Benigno Aquino Jr.'s term, he will just junk it.
"Tapos sabi nila itong papel sa kaso nanalo tayo, i-pursue mo. Pinursue ko, walang nangyari," he said. "Actually sa usapang bugoy, sabihin ko sa ‘yo, bigay mo sa akin, sabihin ko, ‘P***** *** papel lang ‘yan, itatapon ko ‘yan sa wastebasket.'"
(They tell me to pursue this paper because we won. I pursued it but nothing happened. Actually, if you give that to me, I will tell you, 'Son of *****, I will throw that in the wastebasket.')
The DFA highlighted the ruling's importance at the 34th ASEAN-United States Dialogue on Thursday.
DFA Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso recalled Manila's protest against the shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges by the Chinese Coast Guard against Philippine Coast Guard vessels, during the PCG's maritime patrols and training exercises in late April in Scarborough Shoal.
Scarborough is a small ring of reefs that lies about 230 kilometers from the Philippines and 650 kilometers from the nearest Chinese landmass.
Buensuceso said these moves by Chinese vessels threaten Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and the security and stability in the region.
Ambassador Atul Keshap, head of the United States delegation, agreed with the Philippine side and reiterated US State Secretary Antony Blinken’s commitment to DFA Sec. Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. that the United States will stand by the side of their ASEAN partners, especially the Philippines, its long-time ally.
“Maritime cooperation is a vital element, a solid foundation for the prosperity, peace, and continued work of ASEAN with our external partners like the United States...We stand to succeed by combining our diverse knowledge in this very important area of cooperation,” Buensuceso said.
Manila and Beijing's spat over the disputed waterway flared again last March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China has rejected multiple calls from the Philippines to withdraw its boats, escalating tensions as Manila steps up maritime patrols in the area.
Despite the superpower's aggression and alleged violations in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte has leaned towards Beijing for help since he assumed power in June 2016.
Critics have slammed him for his past statements and actions allegedly cowing to China, particularly with the West Philippine Sea issue.