SINGAPORE - President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent pronouncements on China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea may be used against the Philippines, an analyst said Saturday.
Duterte earlier said it was not wise to hold military drills in the South China Sea because China was already in possession of the whole area.
“No because --- it’s not military drills because I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions --- strong --- military activity that will prompt a response from China?” he said.
Duterte's statement was directed at the United States, which has been closely watching Chinese actions in the South China Sea as it guarded freedom of navigation in the area.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the President should not be making such statements, especially since these are not contrary to Philippine law and international law.
“He (Duterte) is acknowledging China’s claims. He is recognizing China’s current occupation or possession of the disputed features,” Batongbacal said.
“We are supposed to be in control of our own rights. His (Duterte) remarks call into question whether or not the Philippines is willing to abide by the mutual defense treaty,” he added, in reference to the pact with treaty ally United States.
Batongbacal expressed fears that the President’s latest remarks might once again place the country at a disadvantage.
“They [US] will not defend it if we don’t defend ourselves,” Batongbacal added.
With the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Philippines, the maritime law expert said the visit “should be a major milestone in the improved relations of the Philippines and China.”
“For President Xi, he needs to make this visit successful, so the West Philippine Sea dispute might not be discussed. But if it will be, I’m sure it will be discussed in private,” Batongbacal said.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Batongbacal urged the public to ask both governments “to account for what the past two years of improved relations has given us in benefits” and what more to expect.
He added that since more agreements will be signed during Xi’s visit, the public must be curious and demand transparency.