MANILA

Palace: Duterte thinks exploration deal 'wise, prudent'

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte believes that it was "wise and prudent" for the Philippines to enter into a joint oil and gas exploration deal with China, Malacañang said on Friday, September 13.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed that Manila's relationship with China is not limited to the "peaceful" negotiations on the disputed South China Sea.

"The relationship between the Philippines and China is not confined to the dispute between – and the differing claims of – the two countries over the West Philippine Sea. Neither is the relationship of the two nations measured by the same nor is it confined thereat," he said.

"Proceeding from such reasoning, the President deems it wise and prudent that this kind of relationship should bear fruit by entering into a co-production, joint venture, or a production-sharing agreement with China that would help us explore, develop or utilize our natural resources in the said maritime area, even as we continue to dialogue peacefully for the resolution of the conflict in the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Earlier Friday, Senior Associate Justice Carpio said Duterte has no authority to "set aside" Manila's legal win against China before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, with regard to the overlapping South China Sea claims.

Carpio's remarks were in response to the President's statement on Tuesday, September 10, that he would "ignore" the sea ruling to ensure "economic activity" in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Manila's petition against China's sweeping claims to most features of the South China Sea.

Duterte, in a speech delivered in Manila, revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping had appealed to him to "set aside" Manila's historic arbitral win, in order to advance its oil exploration plans with Beijing.

Panelo, however, reiterated that the President "has not abandoned, nor is he abandoning, and neither will he ever abandon the favorable arbitral award issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, more so with respect to our rights in the West Philippine Sea."

"Time and time again, PRRD has stressed this fact – the arbitral ruling is final, binding and unappealable. It is there forever and ever, as in forever. Not only is it carved in stone but it is as permanent as the sun rising on the east," he said.

"We find it amusing if not exasperating why some quarters keep on insisting at some hairsplitting alternate interpretations of the President's foreign policy relative to the issue," the Palace official added.

Panelo lamented that Carpio seemed to relish in finding fault in the President's remarks, "even if there is none."

He assured the magistrate that Duterte "is always finding ways to resolve the dispute and will not waive any right nor give any consent that will undermine our sovereign claims in the process."

"We recall, however, that it was Justice Carpio himself who said that he has no objections if we pursue a joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea," he said.

"For the umpteenth time, we reiterate that what the President means when he said that we will first set aside the ruling to come up with a viable economic activity in the West Philippine Sea is that - we would, in the meantime, divert our focus to something that would benefit our country in the midst of the impasse with China on our territorial dispute," he added.

Panelo likewise guaranteed that the current administration would not "totally forget about the said ruling and waive our sovereign rights as laid out therein."

He noted that the Philippine government, as a matter of policy and principle, continues to assert its rights over the West Philippine Sea, despite China's eluctance or objections in recognizing Manila's rights over its exclusive economic zone.

"We should remember that diplomatic negotiations to resolve the conflicting claims of the countries anent the issue are ongoing and we are mandating our officials to continue invoking our claims over the exclusive economic zone as against the position of China," Panelo said.

"If there is no force in the meantime in any part of the world that the arbitral ruling can be enforced, neither is there any force on earth that can compel or intimidate the Philippines into abandoning or waiving it," he added. (SunStar Philippines)


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