By Genalyn Kabiling
The government will not drop or abandon the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute in favor of pursuing a joint oil exploration project with China, Malacañang clarified Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that the government will continue to negotiate “peacefully” with China about the conflict while pursuing other mutually beneficial interests such as the exploration deal.
“Setting aside doesn’t mean that we will abandon it. What the President means is that, as we have repeatedly said and as he has said too, the arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries. Negotiation is ongoing peacefully,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“But meanwhile, we focus without other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries,” he added.
President Duterte had earlier bared that Chinese President Xi Jinping promised the Philippines a bigger share in the planned oil venture in the South China Sea if it set asides the arbitral award that nullified China’s claims in the disputed area. Beijing’s position on a 60-40 oil venture with Manila was made known during the meeting of Duterte and Xi in Beijing last month.
Duterte claimed that the administration would “ignore” the arbitral ruling “to come up with an economic activity.”
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, ruling that China has no historical rights to the resource-rich waters. But Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.
Panelo, however, clarified the President’s latest comment about supposedly setting aside arbitral ruling, saying “he did not say that Philippines will drop the claim.”
He said the President still believes the arbitral award is final and binding, adding that the two sides are trying to address maritime conflict through peaceful negotiations.
“Di ba sinabi naman ni Presidente, e, permanente yun e. It’s binding, it’s final, it’s unappealable.It’s there forever and ever, like forever [The President said it is permanent, it’s binding, it’s final, it’s unappealable. It’s there forever and ever, like forever],” he said.
“What, as he said, the arbitral ruling is still subject to peaceful talks – iyon ang ibig sabihin noon. In other words, impasse pa eh kaya hayaan mo muna silang mag-usap so let’s talk about other things like this joint exploration,” he said.
He said the relationship between the two countries is not measured by the conflict in the West Philippine Sea alone.