Duterte stance on China undermines PH victory in sea row—De Lima
MANILA, Philippines— Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to be careful about his statements on unresolved disputes in the South China Sea, saying his recent pronouncements viewed as friendly to China were undermining the Philippines’ hard-fought legal battle before the United Nations arbitral tribunal.
“My unsolicited advice to the President is to be careful in his pronouncements and his moves and actions in so far as the West Philippine Sea issues are concerned,” De Lima said, in reference to part of the disputed waters within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“Pronouncements by state officials, particularly the head of state himself, can be binding… He probably doesn’t realize he has statements now that China will only be too happy to invoke against us in that case,” she told reporters at a Senate forum.
De Lima made the statement when asked of her stand on the Duterte administration’s apparent submissive stance towards China as regards the right of Filipino fishermen to go back to their traditional fishing grounds in the Chinese-controlled Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The shoal is localed 230 kms off the Zambales coast, and is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Chinese authorities, however, seized control of the shoal after a two-month standoff with Philippine vessels in 2012, barring Filipino fishermen since then.
Mr. Duterte said Saturday he had asserted the right of Filipino fishermen to go back to the shoal, but added that he will “leave it to Chinese authorities, what they will do in the next few days from now.”
In speeches the following day, Mr. Duterte said he had reiterated the Philippines’ right to the waters in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to China last week, and that the latter had agreed to let the Filipinos return.
The President has displayed a friendlier demeanor towards China, even announcing in Beijing his intent to deviate from the country’s long-standing alliance with the United States.
De Lima said Mr. Duterte should instead be campaigning for international support for the landmark July arbitral ruling of the UN tribunal, which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over much of the South China Sea, and declared the Panatag Shoal traditional international fishing grounds.
China has fiercely rejected the ruling, instead asserting indisputable sovereignty over the waters.
“Of course, there’s already a decision, but we should now be in a period of enforcement and assertion of that ruling. If President PNoy (Benigno Aquino III) had still be President, he would be doing that right now, trying to seek the support of the international community, rallying the international community to put heavy pressure on China to recognize the ruling,” De Lima said.
“What the President is doing now is the opposite of that. He is at the lead of trying to dilute and weaken the import and significance of the ruling,” she said. JE
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