MANILA, Philippines – Before leaving for his back-to-back state visits in Brunei and China, President Rodrigo Duterte gave assurances he would not strike any bargains with China over the West Philippine Sea.
"There wil be no bargaining there. It is ours," said Duterte about the West Philippine Sea, 90% of which China continues to claim as its exclusive economic zone despite an international court ruling in favor of the Philippines.
Duterte was holding a press conference on Sunday, October 16, at the Davao International Airport.
The President said he will "insist" that the arbitration award be discussed with Chinese officials but did not say explicitly if he would raise it during his October 18 to 21 Beijing trip.
But once it is taken up, Duterte will not be making any "hard impositions."
"We continue to insist that the arbitral, international decision, will be taken up but there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgement and set the limits of our territories, the special economic zones," he said.
"No bargaining of our territories whether within the 12 or 200 [nautical miles]. It will remain a special concern and I will be very careful not to bargain anything," he said.
Duterte agreed with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that conceding Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea is a violation of the Constitution and thus a ground for impeachment.
"I agree with him. We cannot barter what is not ours. It belongs to the Filipino people. I cannot be the sole authorizing agent for that is not allowed under the Constitution," said the President.
Previously, Duterte said he will not give up fighting for the Philippines' claim in the West Philippine Sea.
However, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said the Chinese government is likely to avoid discussing what he calls the "divisive" sea ruling.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.