De Lima to Duterte: Be careful with statements on sea row
Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday called on President Duterte to be careful with his statements about unresolved disputes in the South China Sea, saying his recent remarks viewed as friendly to China tended to undermine Manila’s victory over Beijing in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
“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, using the local name of the waters within the Philippines 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
“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,” De Lima told reporters.
Mr. Duterte on Saturday said he asserted the Filipino fishermen’s right to go back to Panatag Shoal during his state visit to China last week, but added that he left it “to the Chinese authorities” what to do about it.
In speeches the following day, Mr. Duterte said Filipino fishermen might be able to return to Panatag after a wait of a few days.
Mr. Duterte, who styles himself as a socialist, is seeking a thaw in relations with China, which lost an arbitration suit to the Philippines in the Hague court in July.
Despite the Philippine victory, Mr. Duterte has agreed to resolve the maritime dispute with China through bilateral talks.
Rally for int’l support
De Lima said Mr. Duterte should instead be campaigning for international support for the ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
China has rejected the ruling, insisting it has “undisputed sovereignty” over the South China Sea.
“Of course, there’s already a decision, but we should now be in a period of enforcement and assertion of that ruling. If President P-Noy (Benigno Aquino III) [were still in office], 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 [President Duterte] is doing now is the opposite of that. He is at the lead of trying to dilute and weaken the importance and significance of the ruling,” she said.
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