Duterte wants to start bilateral talks with China – Diokno

MANILA, Philippines – After the release of a ruling that rejects China's claim over a major area in the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte is eyeing bilateral talks with the Asian superpower.

This, according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno who told reporters on Thursday, July 14, that Duterte wants to engage China in "bilateral" talks.

"Sabi niya [Duterte], we will start the bilateral talks and now we're starting from a better position because of that decision kasi nasa tamang lugar tayo," he said in the ambush interview.

(Duterte said we will start the bilateral talks and now we're starting from a better position because of that decision, because we're in the right place.)

Diokno said that Duterte wanted the Cabinet to be "magnanimous in victory."

"'Di ba 'wag ka nang ano, kasi asar na asar na nga ang kalaban mo, tapos aasarin mo pa," said Diokno.

(Right? Because if your enemy is already very irritated, don't irritate them even more.)

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, in a text message to Rappler, confirmed that bilateral talks were indeed discussed during the July 12 Cabinet meeting. The meeting was held around an hour after The Hague released the historic ruling on the West Philippine Sea.

During the meeting, Aguirre said those present discussed "the different responses or options which the Philippines may take after the ruling was issued."

One of the conclusions reached was, "We have to talk with China. We could not avoid it," said Aguirre.

Duterte has long been vocal about his openness to bilateral negotiations with China, a track Beijing prefers to multilateral talks involving countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia.

During the campaign for the May 2016 elections, Duterte gave statements on the West Philippine Sea issue that were contrary to the previous Aquino administration’s position, such as joint exploration with China in the disputed area if the Philippines’ arbitration case drags.

Foreign analysts have said that the West Philippine Sea ruling can be used as leverage through different channels of negotiation, including bilateral talks. (READ: PH-China ruling could help restart talks)

But Duterte has yet to receive a "complete and thorough interpretation" of the 500-page ruling. Solicitor General Jose Calida is supposed to give Duterte the interpretation in 3 days.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Palace has "no official word" on the possibility of bilateral talks with China. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.