MANILA - Former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Friday told President Rodrigo Duterte that no one is stopping him from sending back Philippine ships to the Scarborough Shoal in West Philippine Sea, as tensions in the disputed waters continued to mount.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold valuable gas and oil deposits.
In 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal junked Beijing's claim to about 90 percent of the disputed waters, but it continued to disregard the ruling.
In an interview with ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, Trillanes explained that the country initially pulled out its maritime assets in the shoal supposedly due to "inclement weather."
This, as the President this week said that recalling the country's ships there led to Beijing occupying the area, as only their fleet remained.
"Nag-pull out tayo dahil sa inclement weather, at sila nag-pull out din yung mga nasa loob na yon... Pero noong nag-pull out ang ating mga barko, part ng negotiation, lumabas po ang barko nila sa loob," the former lawmaker explained.
(We pulled out our ships due to inclement weather and they pulled out their ships, too. When we pulled out our ships as part of the negotiation, they left the shoal)
But Trillanes said that the chief executive could send back the country's ships in the shoal if that was his concern in the first place.
"Siya yung presidente ng Pilipinas ngayon. Puwede naman niyang utusan muli na bumalik ang barko, wala naman pong nagpipigil sa kanya... Nobody is stopping us from doing that. So siya, nasa kanya... 5 taon na siyang nakaupo diyan," he pointed out.
(He is the incumbent President of the Philippines. He can order the ships to go back there, nobody is stopping him from doing so. It is up to him. He is already a president for 5 years.)
Duterte earlier said the administration of his predecessor Benigno Aquino Jr. pursued the arbitral case against Beijing after a standoff in the resource-rich waterway.
The 2012 standoff erupted at Scarborough Shoal, a small ring of reefs that lies about 230 kilometers from the Philippines and 650 kilometers from the nearest Chinese landmass.
'CHINA'S FLEET OUTSIDE SCARBOROUGH'
Trillanes said that at present, China's ships are outside the Scarborough Shoal.
The reclamations there had also stopped.
"Noong sa dulo, noong umalis na halos lahat (Chinese ships), naiwan ang 3, pero ang 3 barko na yon doon na po yon sa labas ng Scarborough Shoal, wala na doon sa loob," he explained.
"Hanggang ngayon walang reclamation sa Scarborough, wala rin pong barko sa loob, lahat po ng 3 naiwan na barko nila, nasa labas."
(In the end, when almost all of the Chinese ships left, 3 ships remained but they were outside the shoal. Until now, there are no reclamations in the Scarborough, there are no ships inside. All of China's ships are outside the shoal.)
Duterte on Wednesday said the country's arbitral victory could be compared to a piece of paper that belonged to the "wastebasket."
He had also blamed retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario for China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
Del Rosario was among those who hailed China to court.
China-controlled Scarborough is one of the region's richest fishing grounds and a flashpoint between the two countries.
Manila and Beijing's spat flared again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' EEZ.
The Philippine government has filed several protests regarding the continued incursions of Chinese ships in the country's territory.
– With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse