Palace denies Duterte 'betrayed constitution,' fires back at ex-DFA chief
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's administration has "done all that we could" in the maritime row against China, Malacañang said on Monday, on the fifth anniversary of the ruling by a United Nations-backed court that junked Beijing's economic claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte's efforts include his speech before the UN General Assembly last year, where he asserted commitment to the 2016 ruling, said his spokesman Harry Roque.
"We have done all that we could, given the absence po of an enforcement mechanism under international law," he said in a press briefing.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea. It also said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.
China—which lays claim to most of the waters within a so-called 9-Dash Line, which is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam—reiterated on Friday that Beijing did not accept the ruling.
WHO'S THE TRAITOR?
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, citing information from "a most reliable international entity, said high officials from China are "bragging that they had been able to influence the 2016 Philippine elections so that Duterte would be president."
Del Rosario said Duterte has displayed a "disturbing pattern of loyalty to a foreign power." He noted that in 2018, Duterte bragged that Xi would protect him from removal from office.
Duterte the next year entered a verbal deal that allowed the Chinese to fish in Philippines waters, and in 2020, said he was "inutile" against China, said Del Rosario.
He added that just recently, Duterte called the ruling a scrap of "paper" that can be thrown into the wastebasket, and said his promise to ride a jet ski to challenge Chinese incursion in Philippine waters was a "pure joke."
"This episode contributes to a widening belief among our countrymen that President Duterte betrayed the Constitution he swore to uphold and has consequently betrayed his countrymen who rely on him to protect the West Philippine Sea," Del Rosario said.
Roque dismissed these allegations, saying, "Kalokohan po 'yan coming from a proven traitor."
(That's nonsense coming from a proven traitor.)
"Siya po ang nagpaalis sa ating mga kasundaluhan sa [Scar]borough na naging dahilan na ang Tsina na lang ang nasa [Scar]borough," said the Palace official.
(He was the one who removed our soldiers from Scarborough, which was the reason that China was left there alone.)
"Manahimik ka d’yan dahil ikaw nga ang may pananagutan d’yan. I enjoin lawyers and other groups to study the legal liability of Albert Del Rosario in ceding Scarborough Shoal to China," Roque added.
(Shut up because you are liable there.)
SCARBOROUGH STANDOFF, SEIZURE
Del Rosario, who led Department of Foreign Affairs under the late former President Noynoy Aquino, earlier said China "deceitfully breached" a deal to mutually withdraw ships from the shoal and end standoff with the Philippines in 2012.
This prompted the Aquino admin to take China before an international court in 2014.
The ruling came out shortly after Duterte became President. He has refused to press China to follow the ruling as he pursued economic investments and loans from the economic superpower.
In March, the Philippines complained of incursions by what it said were more than 200 Chinese militia vessels into the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
In its statement, China's foreign ministry did not address a question about the presence of Chinese ships in the Philippines' EEZ. Chinese diplomats previously said the boats were sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.
"The data here is very clear," said Greg Poling of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Chinese Coast Guard ships and the militia are in the Philippines' EEZ more than they were five years ago."
Some Filipino fishermen say their encounters with Chinese boats are more frequent than ever.
"Now, it is as if we are the ones stealing from our own backyard," said 51-year old fisherman Christopher de Vera.
"I dispute that," Roque said of the fishermen's complaint.
"Ako lang naman ang tumayong abogado ng mga mangingisda galing Masiloc, galing sa iba't ibang bahagi ng Pangasinan. At alam ko po, I have personal knowledge, na halos lahat po sila ay nakabalik na sa kanilang hanapbuhay, lalong-lalo na d'yan sa Scarborough," he said.
(I served as lawyer for the fishermen from Masinloc, various parts of Pangasinan. And I have personal knowledge that almost all of them have returned to their livelihood, especially there in Scarborough.)
"I'm saying whoever said it must not be reporting the truth and everything but the truth," the official added.
Nonetheless, he said authorities would "of course" look into the report.
The country has made 128 diplomatic protests over China's activities in contested waters since 2016, and coast guard and bureau of fisheries vessels have conducted "sovereign" patrols in the Philippines' EEZ.
China's presence has also grown elsewhere in the South China Sea. It has continued to strengthen artificial islands equipped with secured ports, airstrips and surface-to-air-missiles.
Confrontations with Vietnam have set back energy projects. Malaysia has complained about the actions of Chinese vessels. Their presence have also drawn concern in Indonesia - even though it is not technically a claimant state.
Occasional freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. Navy have challenged China's claims but show no sign of discouraging Beijing from deploying vessels around the Philippines or elsewhere.
Before his election in 2016, Duterte had said he would stand up for his country's claims in the South China Sea.
He is due to step down at the end of his single 6-year term next year, but talk that he could be vice president or be succeeded by his daughter have raised doubts that policies will change.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters