MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte is mulling over consulting his predecessors on China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea instead of convening the National Security Council (NSC), Malacañang said on Thursday.
Former senator and military chief Rodolfo Biazon said earlier Thursday senators must urge Duterte to convene the NSC to clarify his administration's "confusing" stand on the sea row with China.
"Unang-una, wala pong confusing sa stand ni Presidente sa West Philippine Sea," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
(First of all, there is nothing confusing with the President's stand on the West Philippine Sea.)
He said Duterte's policy towards China is to temporarily set aside issues that cause disagreements and push through with commerce and investments, among others.
"Pero hinding-hindi tayo mamimigay ng teritoryo at paninindigan at pangangalagaan natin ang pangnasyunal na soberenya at ang ating mga sovereign rights," Roque said in a press briefing.
(But we never give away territory, and we will stand firm and protect our national sovereignty and sovereign rights.)
"Pangalawa, actually nabanggit po sa akin iyan ni Presidente, ang problema doon sa National Security Council, wala naman pong nari-resolve doon sa mga pagkakataon na naka-attend siya," he added.
(Second, actually the President has mentioned to me the problem with the National Security Council. Nothing was resolved in the instances when he attended.)
The NSC is an advisory body where the President discusses national security and foreign policy matters with relevant advisers and Cabinet officials.
Instead of convening the NSC, Duterte is thinking about inviting past Presidents and some personalities to a meeting and "discuss the issue," Roque said.
"Iyong mga karanasan nga niya sa National Security Council eh walang resolusyon na nangyayari, so parang bakit pa eh puwede naman po iyan through informal consultations," said Roque.
(With his experience with the National Security Council, there were no resolutions, so why bother when things could be discussed through informal consultations.)
There is no tentative date yet for the possible meeting, he said.
"The President is considering the idea of an alternative to convening the National Security Council. Pero iyon po, still in the process of consideration," Roque said.
He did not say whether or not Duterte would invite his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, whose administration he has blamed for the withdrawal of Philippine ships from Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea in a standoff in 2012 and China's subsequent seizure of the rich fishing grounds.
But Albert Del Rosario, who served as Aquino's foreign affairs secretary, said China had "deceitfully" breached an agreement to withdraw ships from Scarborough and end the standoff with the Philippines.
This prompted the Aquino administration to pursue an arbitration complaint against China before a United Nations-backed court in 2013. In 2016, with Duterte in power, the arbitral tribunal junked Beijing's claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
China ignores the ruling, and has built military installations equipped with missiles on reefs in disputed areas, including within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, alongside a constant presence of coastguard and fishing vessels.
Duterte has refused to press China to obey the ruling as he pursued loans and investments from the economic superpower. Earlier this May, he said the arbitral victory against China was just a scrap of "paper" he could throw in the trash.
About $3 trillion worth of shipborne trade passes each year in the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the sea, which has vast oil and gas potential.
– With a report from Reuters
Video courtesy of PTV