'The time has come': Duterte to invoke PH arbitral win in fifth China visit

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2019 01:19 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2019 09:01 AM

MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte will finally raise Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims, when he visits China later this month.

Duterte, in a speech on Tuesday afternoon, confirmed plans to discuss the arbitral ruling with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during his upcoming trip, his fifth as President. 

“‘Yung arbitral ruling, pag-usapan natin ‘yan (We will talk about the arbitral ruling). That’s why I’m going to China,” he said during the oath-taking of newly-elected officials of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc.

 “I’m going to China to talk. Did I not tell you before, that before my term ends, I will be talking about the [South] China Sea?” he said, noting that there are “scuffles” that need to be addressed.

Earlier in the day, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said "the time has come" for the Philippines to assert its rights in the West Philippine Sea in light of rising maritime tensions in the area.

The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety. 

"There will be a time that I will invoke the arbitral ruling. This is the time that’s why I’m going there," Panelo quoted Duterte as saying on Monday night.

Panelo said the matter would be discussed during a one-on-one meeting between Duterte and Xi. No specific date has been set for the meeting as of yet but it is likely to happen before the end of August.

In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. 

It also made clear that the potentially oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank was inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the West Philippine Sea. China does not recognize the ruling and has instead ramped up its militarization efforts in the vital waterway.

Panelo said Duterte finds that this is the right time to raise the Philippines’ arbitral victory given that the chief executive only has 3 years left in his term. 

The President is also interested in pursuing a 60-40 sharing deal with China once the proposed joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea begins, Panelo said.

Duterte has repeatedly faced criticism in the past for refusing to invoke the Philippines' victory, which was handed down at the start of his term. The arbitration case was initiated by the administration of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III. 

During his fourth State of the Nation Address, President Duterte promised Filipinos that the government would stand up for the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea in “due time" or once the oil exploration with China begins.

"The West Philippine Sea is ours, no ifs and buts... We have to temper it with the times and the realities we face today," Duterte said in his fourth SONA.

The President will cover “all” issues related to China when he raises Manila’s arbitral victory.

Recently, the Philippine leader has come under fire over a verbal agreement with Xi on fishing in disputed waters after a Chinese ship hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat in the area in June, a case he called a simple maritime incident. 

In every issue raised in relation to Manila and Beijing’s maritime dispute, Malacañang has repeatedly insisted that the Philippines’ sovereignty is "non-negotiable" even as the country sought closer ties with China.