MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25, hailed an arbitral tribunal’s historic ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"With regard to the West Philippine Sea, otherwise known as the China Sea (sic), we strongly affirm and respect the outcome of the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue a peaceful resolution and management of our disputes,” Duterte said in his SONA on Monday.
Duterte issued this message before an audience that included Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.
Since winning the presidency, Duterte has met with Zhao at least 3 times in an effort to improve Manila’s relations with Beijing.
Those attending his SONA also included US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.
Before he delivered his SONA, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr addressed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to urge Southeast Asian countries to support the Hague ruling.
The ASEAN ended up ignoring the Hague ruling in its joint statement at the end of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos.
The Philippines is eyeing bilateral or one-on-one talks with China using the ruling as the "baseline" in negotiations. China, however, asserts that it will reject bilateral talks if based on the ruling.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.