PH using ‘skillful diplomacy’ in territorial dispute with China – Palace

By Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte is using “skillful diplomacy” to resolve the country’s territorial dispute with China without resorting to aggression or use of force.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that the government continues to assert rights over the West Philippine Sea while keeping friendly ties with its giant Asian neighbor.

“President Duterte, as the country’s chief architect of our foreign policy, has been using skillful diplomacy in dealing with our giant neighbor, where both countries can peacefully discuss and resolve issues through a bilateral consultation mechanism,” he said.

Panelo dismissed as “reckless and “unintelligent” the proposal of government critics to gain control of territory and evict other claimants. Such aggressive move, he warned, could only trigger armed hostilities and eventually “full-blown war” that will endanger the lives and properties of the Filipino people.

“This method has not been employed by the President believing that the issue of the West Philippine Sea must not be the sum of our relationship with China,” Panelo said.

“The 1987 Constitution similarly mandates him to observe friendly relations with other countries while directing him to act in accordance with his primordial duty of serving and protecting the Filipino people,” he added.

Panelo made the remarks after a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed majority of Filipinos wanted the government to assert the country’s rights to the West Philippine Sea.

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The survey, conducted last June, showed 87 percent of the 1,200 respondents want the Philippine government to assert territorial rights over the West Philippine Sea as stated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The latest poll was released on the third anniversary of the PCA decision that nullified China’s nine-dash claim over the disputed territory.

Panelo said the premise of the survey was “wrong” after it assumed the Duterte administration was not asserting the rights over the West Philippine Sea. “This administration has asserted our rights over the same. There are many ways of asserting such rights,” he pointed out.

He also said they expect the President’s critics to “tweak and use” the poll results to lambast the administration over the West Philippine Sea issue.

But he reminded them that China has claimed possession over some disputed territories due to the alleged ineptness of the previous Aquino administration.

He likewise cautioned that the country might lose its exclusive sovereign claim over Panatag Shoal once the arbitration ruling on the South China Sea is enforced.

“We remind the critics and detractors who had been praising the team who initiated the complaint for arbitration that fully enforcing the arbitral award would actually result in our country losing its exclusive sovereign claim over Scarborough Shoal,” he said.

“Scarborough Shoal is located within 200 nautical miles from our country’s coasts but thanks to the arbitral award, it is now internationally considered as the fishing ground of the Chinese, the Taiwanese and the Vietnamese,” he added.

He said the country did not physically or legally lose a part of territory or any of sovereign right to any foreign country during the Duterte administration.

“In fact, it is under this administration that our fishermen can now fish in the disputed areas which, even before PRRD assumed the presidency, have been effectively possessed by China as a result of the irresponsibility and ineptitude of the previous administration,” he added.

The President has been criticized by some groups for allegedly allowing Chinese fishermen in the country’s waters despite a constitutional mandate to protect the exclusive economic zone and reserving the use of marine resources to Filipinos.

Duterte earlier said China could not be prevented from fishing in the area following a mutual agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Some groups have threatened to impeach the President over his controversial West Philippine Sea policy.