MANILA — Filipinos should put President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks in "context", Malacañang said on Monday, in response to calls from a retired justice and graduates from his alma matter demanding that he withdraw his comments on the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese incursions continue.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio last week launched an online petition urging Duterte to take back his comments that Manila's arbitral victory against Beijing was a scrap of "paper"; that Chinese fishermen can fish in Philippine waters; and that China is in possession of the waterway.
An alumni group from San Beda University, where Duterte graduated, made the same appeal.
"Ilagay po natin lahat ‘yan sa konteksto," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said of the President's remarks.
"Perhaps, sa lenggwahe ni Presidente, he may not be as accurate. Pero consistent po ang sinasabi niya," he said in a press briefing.
(Let us put all that in context. Perhaps, in the language of the President, he may not be as accurate. But he is consistent in what he says.)
Duterte's critics have warned that his statements have implications on the Philippines' position on the issue, which will last beyond the term of the current administration.
Duterte was referring to Scarborough Shoal when he said China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea, said Roque.
China seized the shoal in 2012, after a standoff with the Philippines.
This prompted the administration of Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino to file an arbitral complaint against China before a United Nations-backed court.
Shortly after Duterte took office, the tribunal in 2016 junked Beijing's "historical" claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
Addressing Duterte's remark that the landmark ruling is "paper" that can be thrown into the wastebasket, Roque said, "Under international law, unless mayroon kang collective security measure, wala talagang pamamaraan para ipatupad ‘yan."
(Under international law, unless you have a collective security measure, there is no way to enforce that. )
"You can only hope that China, as a member-state of the UN and as a permanent member of the Security Council will of course, comply with its obligations under International law. But beyond that, talagang wala pong ibang pamamaraan (we have no other way)," said Roque, a lawyer.
Arbitration is allowed as a dispute settlement mechanism under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which the Philippines and China are both signatories.
China did not participate in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines, and continues to disregard the ruling, which legal experts say is binding.
Video courtesy of PTV