Malacañang is hopeful that the friendly relations between the Philippines and China will be able to resolve the ongoing tension at the Julian Felipe Reef.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement as the word war between Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the Chinese Embassy in Manila intensified after the former called China out for insisting that the Julian Felipe Reef, which they call the Niu’e Jiao, is part of their country.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Roque said President Duterte stood behind Lorenzana’s remarks but hoped that the issue will be settled through friendly ties.
“The status right now is, under the qualified political doctrine, of course, the President stands by the statements of our Secretary of Defense. But I hasten to add that the President has been clear that this is not an issue that we need to war between friendly nations,” he told “The Source” on Monday.
“We’re hoping that our friendly relations will soon dissolve this latest impasse,” he added.
Last week, Lorenzana strongly reiterated the demand of the Philippine government to withdraw the remaining suspected Chinese militia vessels from the reef.
“I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan (Leave),” he said.
In response, the Chinese Embassy in Manila wrote in a Facebook post that it was only normal for Chinese vessels to be in that part of the disputed waters which is some 180 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan because it is supposedly part of China.
“The Chinese Embassy has taken note of the perplexing statement by Philippine Defense Secretary on Chinese fishing vessels around Niu’e Jiao in the South China Sea… The Niu’e Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Islands. The waters around Niu’e Jiao has been a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years,” the Embassy’s post read.
The statement of the Chinese Embassy did not sit well with Lorenzana, calling it an “utter disregard” of international law.
“The utter disregard by the Chinese Embassy in Manila of international law, especially the UNCLOS to which China is a party, is appalling,” he said.
“Its nine-dash line claim is without any factual or legal basis. This, together with its so-called historical claim, was flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal,” he added.