MANILA, Philippines – When the proper time comes, President Rodrigo Duterte will go into bilateral talks with China with the Hague ruling as his starting point.
“When we face bilateral, kung magkaharap na kami (when we are facing each other), there will be a time when I will say that this is the arbitral ruling and if you want to talk to me this will be my platform and we do not go out of the 4 corners of this document,” said Duterte on Friday evening, September 2. (READ: Duterte to China: You can't avoid Hague ruling)
He was speaking at the inauguration of the Davao International Container Terminal in Panabo City, Davao.
“Whether we like it or not, I proceed and my predicate for my willingess to talk to you would be the arbitral judgment in my favor,” added the Philippine president.
Despite his strong rhetoric, Duterte did not indicate when he would raise the historic international tribunal’s decision with China. However, he may fly to China within the year.
The decision declared the Asian giant’s claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as invalid. Beijing refuses to recognize the decision.
Duterte repeated his strategy of making a “soft landing” on the dispute, saying now is not the proper time to confront China.
“I am not ready to exchange barbs with China…We do not want any quarrel at all at this time – except we want to trade, commerce with everybody,” he said.
China's stance 'unacceptable'
But Duterte promised Filipinos he would use the decision to “make a stand.”
“As your President, hindi ko kayo ipapasubo. Hindi ko kayo ipapahiya (I will not feed you to them. I won't embarrass you). There will be a time when I have to make a stand,” he said.
China’s persistent claims over the disputed sea is not acceptable to him.
“I have to make it clear to China that every time you talk about sole ownership or even entitlements there, it’s something which is totally unacceptable to us,” he said.
Duterte, again giving credit to former president Benigno Aquino III for taking China to court over the dispute, said the Hague ruling affirms the Philippines’ claim over the West Philippine Sea “clearly, in plain language.”
At some point, he said, China will have to stop its words of denial and accept the ruling.
“We can only take so much but you cannot be slapped every day with that kind of words. Parang naghamon ka (It's like you're challenging us),” said the President.
'Holding my tongue'
His statements come days before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos to be attended by leaders from all over the region and beyond, including high-level Chinese officials.
Duterte said he would refrain from bringing up the Hague ruling even as he said fellow ASEAN countries with claims over the West Philippine Sea may also want the Philippines to use the ruling.
“I do not want to ignite anything there. I’ve been holding my tongue…I’m the guy who blurts out anything that enters my mind,” he said.
During the September 6 to 8 summit, the Philippine leader is likely to have bilateral meetings with leaders of countries with interests in the West Philippine Sea, like the United States, Australia, and Japan. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.