MANILA – (UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte said he would pursue a “settlement” with China, even if this would mean setting aside an international arbitration court’s decision that invalidated the Asian giant’s vast sea claims in favor of the Philippines.
Duterte was scheduled to meet over the weekend with former president Fidel Ramos, his preferred special envoy to China. Should Ramos decline, the President said he would offer the post to former interior secretary Rafael Alunan.
“Pero sa (South) China Sea, if we can just have a settlement with them despite the arbitral judgment, I think that marami tayong benefits na makuha,” Duterte said in a speech on Friday, after he inspected a power plant in Maguindanao province.
Earlier this week, the 88-year-old Ramos, who has been fitted with a cardiac pacemaker since last year, said he would seek "command guidance" from Duterte but would also defer to his doctors' advice.
"I want us to succeed so that I can report to him (Duterte) mission accomplished," Ramos told reporters.
Diffusing tension in China-held Scarborough, where Chinese Coast Guard drive away Filipino fishermen even after the international court ruling, should be the first priority, he said.
Ramos added engaging China should not be limited to flying an envoy to Beijing. He recalled a suggestion he made 10 years ago for the Chinese and Filipinos to share fish catch from the disputed waters in picnics.
There was "no news yet" on the planned meeting as of early Saturday evening, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told ABS-CBN News.
Duterte said Ramos suggested setting aside the Philippines’ victory in the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration earlier this month when talking with China.
“Ramos said that if --- it’s all right if we take out the arbitral judgment from the talks. Pagka ganun, and if it’s really the will of the people, especially Congress, baka maunahan natin ang buong Pilipinas,” Duterte said.
The President was referring to possible investments from China that could flow to his home island of Mindanao should Ramos succeed in repairing strained ties with the country’s second largest trading partner after Japan.
“I really pray that we are be able to settle our fundamental, itong sa (South) China Sea,” he said.
The former president has vast experience dealing with Beijing. It was during his term that the Chinese occupied Mischief Reef in 1995, two years after he made a state visit to China and pledged with President Jiang Zemin to resolve disputes peacefully.
Ramos sent media to the outcrop in May that same year on board a Philippine Navy ship to draw international attention to the issue.
The following year, Ramos hosted Jiang in Subic Bay along with Pacific Rim leaders. The two leaders sang a duet of Western standards on a yacht during one of the receptions.