MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said it sees nothing wrong with China drafting a proposed joint exploration deal with the Philippines in the South China Sea, as two opposition senators called on the government to be more transparent in the process.
The Philippines and China have reportedly been preparing an agreement for a joint exploration in the strategic sea lane, but it remains to be seen whether one will be signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit in the Philippines on Tuesday, November 20.
Opposition senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Francis Pangilinan said China drafted the deal, which they said would violate the Philippine Constitution.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, however, that “it doesn’t matter who drafted it.”
“You give us a draft and we will go over it. Even if China drafts it, it has to go over us,” Panelo said in a Palace news conference.
Trillanes and Pangilinan have filed a resolution asking the administration to release the draft of the joint exploration deal.
They argued that a portion of the South China Sea already belongs to the Philippines by virtue of a 2016 decision from a United Nations-backed tribunal invalidating China’s expansive claim to the sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to set aside the ruling in exchange for better economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
China is now considered a top trading partner of the Philippines, a leading export market for the Philippines, and one of the largest tourist origins to the Philippines, Panelo had noted, even as analysis showed that Duterte’s move to improve ties with Beijing has produced a small dividend in terms of infrastructure investment so far.
Panelo said China’s sincerity in dealing with the Philippines will be tested by the outcome of the loan agreements that the two countries will sign during Xi’s state visit.
Duterte had said that despite his government’s rapprochement with China, he will never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and will bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing. His recent statement that China is now “in possession” of the South China Sea, however, has alarmed critics and observers.
Panelo said Duterte has also chosen to set aside the ruling since he is aware that the Philippines cannot match China’s military and economic might, but if countries will pressure China to respect the ruling, the dynamics in the hotly contested area might evolve.
“From the point of view of the President, we can get things done by negotiating,” he said.
“I said presently, perhaps if all the countries of the world will unite and pressure China, who knows. We cannot give up this claim simply because it is ours. We’ve won it and it will be there forever.”