Duterte thanks Aquino for 'ace card' Hague ruling

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his gratitude to his predecessor Benigno Aquino III for securing the Philippines' victory in its case against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Duterte thanked Aquino during the first National Security Council (NSC) meeting on Wednesday, July 27, attended by Aquino and other former presidents.

"Si President Aquino, he won for us the case kaya ako nagsabi, 'Maraming salamat po for giving us the ace card.' It was he who filed, it was upon his instructions," said Duterte as he spoke in front of soldiers on Thursday, July 28, in Camp Nakar in Lucena City, Quezon. 

(President Aquino, he won for us the case, so I said, 'Thank you for giving us the ace card.' It was he who filed, it was upon his instructions.)

Aquino and 3 other former Philippine presidents attended the NSC meetingwhich tackled the maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing, among other national security issues.

Aquino will go down in history as the Philippine president who took China to court and won the case.

Seeing Aquino, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos, and Duterte in one room captured the imagination of netizens.

The 4 former presidents, automatically members of the NSC, were consulted by Duterte on his administration's next steps in the West Philippine Sea dispute.

"We take the advice of the elders. President Arroyo said 'caution.' President Estrada said 'restraint,'" said Duterte.

Ramos, meanwhile, is Duterte's envoy to jumpstart bilateral talks with Beijing.

The President said he would let Ramos "navigate" the way to the talks.

"Hayaan muna natin sila. Let Ramos navigate and maybe, when the final talks are there, tapos nagkaharap na kami, that will be the time na magkaprankahan na tayo," he said.

(Let's let them be for now. Let Ramos navigate and maybe, when the final talks are there and we are face-to-face with China, that will be the time to be frank with each other.)

Once the Duterte adminstration is able to secure talks with China, that's when Duterte will put his cards on the table.

"This is our position, this is what we want, we will not go out of it. So we will talk. So what is your position?" said the President.

The world awaits how Duterte will use the Hague ruling, which affirmed the Philippines' claim over the West Philippine Sea, in negotiations with China. The ruling nullified the Asian giant's so-called 9-dash line and condemned its reclamation activities there.

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.