MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo did not mince words against President Rodrigo Duterte for saying that the country "will ignore" the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea, in favor of a joint oil and gas exploration with China.
Robredo issued one of her most scathing statements by far against the President’s pacifist view on the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, September 12, two days after Duterte made his controversial remark.
“Guaranteeing a better future for our children is perhaps one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities of any administration. Selling that future for a gas deal with China is a shameful way of abandoning that responsibility,” said the Vice President.
Robredo also made the two days after the President joked that he would appoint any "outstanding" government official to replace her.
The Vice President has long been critical of Duterte’s decision to downplay the Philippines’ tribunal victory against China in the West Philippine Sea in favor of trade and investment deals.
Robredo found the President’s latest statement to be “profoundly disappointing and extremely irresponsible.”
She then countered Duterte’s repeated insistence that asserting the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea would supposedly lead to war with China.
“Again, as a number of respected authorities have done so before, I must point out that THIS IS NOT TRUE. Open warfare is far from the sole means of asserting our rights to our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), as our neighboring nations Vietnam and Indonesia have recently and repeatedly proven,” said the Vice President.
Robredo also questioned why the Duterte administration itself is undermining the Philippines’ victory in the Hague tribunal against China. (READ: Locsin says arbitral ruling 'unnecessary' in joint exploration with China)
“The strongest anchor to our claim must be consistency – in our official positions, in our negotiations, and in the statements of our top officials. A firm, consistent assertion of our legal rights does not require a single shot being fired, yet why do the President and his administration constantly fail at doing it?” asked Robredo.
"Why are the President and his administration the very ones who undermine our decisive victory before the arbitral tribunal in 2016 with remarks such as this?” she added.
Malacañang, however, clarified the President's controversial remark, where he said that the Philippines, along with China, "will ignore" the the former's own "exclusive economic zone...to come up with an economic activity."
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters in a news briefing that what Duterte just meant was that he would "set aside" the topic but "he would not drop the claim."
"The setting aside doesn’t mean we will abandon it. The arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries. Negotiations are ongoing peacefully. Meanwhile, we focus on other concerns that would mutually benefit the two countries," Panelo said.
The Palace spokesman also ridiculed former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, who had suggested a way for the Philippine government to conduct its eyed joint venture with China without compromising its Hague victory.
Del Rosario, the Philippines' top diplomat when the country decided to file a case against China, had also said preserving the Philippines' patrimony which includes the EEZ is "infinitely more valuable" than conducting economic activity in the maritime area.
To this, Panelo said: "He talks too much. We already responded to all his opinions and he should look at himself in his mirror, and admit that he’s the one responsible for losing Scarborough Shoal." READ: TIMELINE: The Philippines-China maritime dispute)
Panelo's claim – which Duterte himself had also used to attack Del Rosario – is premised on the decision of the Philippines to pull out its ships amid the tense standoff with China at Scarborough Shoal in 2012, when Del Rosario was foreign secretary. This was under a deal brokered by the United States, in which China was supposed to do the same but did not.
A year after the Scarborough Shoal standoff, the Philippines elevated its territorial dispute with China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), and won 3 years later. The Philippines has yet to enforce this victory, owing to Duterte's pursuit of warm ties with China. – Rappler.com