Sea row 'not be-all, end-all' of PH-China ties: Malacañang
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte wants the maritime dispute between China and the Philippines to quiet down, Malacañang said on Tuesday, even as it blamed the previous administration for the conflict.
China militarized man-made islands in the West Philippine Sea after the government of former President Benigno Aquino III pursued an arbitral case against China in 2014, said Palace spokesman spokesman Harry Roque.
"Huwag ninyo pong kakalimutan kung bakit po mainit ang usapin, hindi po dahil kay Presidente Duterte," he said in a press briefing.
"Nadatnan na po niya iyan at ang nais nga po niya ay mas maging tahimik muli itong isyu na ito dahil hindi naman ito ang end-all and be-all ng ating diplomatic relations with our neighbor China."
(Don't forget why this issue is heated, it's not because of President Duterte. It was there when he arrived, and he wants this issue to quiet again because this issue is not the end-all and be-all of our diplomatic relations with our neighbor China.)
The Aquino administration in 2012 sent a warship to arrest the crew of Chinese boats fishing at Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
China in response sent civilian maritime vessels to circle the Filipino ship. The standoff ended when the Philippines withdrew its ship, following a deal that the United States brokered.
Beijing "deceitfully breached" the deal and kept its ships in Scarborough, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albery del Rosario. This prompted Philippines pursued its arbitration complaint against China.
Shortly after Duterte took office in 2016, a United Nations-backed court ruled in favor of Manila and junked Beijing's "historical" claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
China, however, shuns the ruling and still occupies Scarborough, a rich fishing ground.
Its maritime dispute with Manila flared up again after over 200 Chinese ships swarmed Philippine waters.
Duterte would not have removed the Philippine ship from Scarborough before China pulled back its vessels, said Roque.
But he said China's alleged duplicity in staying at Scarborough is "not a reason" to distrust the nation.
"We have to give the assumption of good faith particularly to our neighbor. Eh ngayon naman po, iyong ating agreement na status quo, hindi naman po nalalabag iyan," he said.
(The agreement for status quo is not being violated.)
"The agreement holds. Walang bagong occupation, walang bagong reclamation, status quo po tayo," he added.
(There is no new occupation, no new reclamation. We are on status quo.)