Filipinos would do well to support and pray for President Duterte in his dialogue next week with China President Xi Jinping to firm up his resolve to invoke the 2016 arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines versus China based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The time has come for Duterte, after three years, to bring up before Xi the award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over most of the South China Sea, including adjoining Philippine waters.
Having telegraphed his intention to raise the PCA ruling, Duterte may have started to feel Xi’s displeasure. His seven-day trip to China was cut to five days (Aug. 28-Sept. 1) with the postponing of the inauguration of a University of Fujian building honoring his late mother Soledad.
It was not clear on whose initiative the program was postponed until an unspecified “appropriate” date. One wonders what Beijing would eventually do with the name of Soledad Roa Duterte on the building when her son ceases to be president, or is no longer useful to China.
Foreign Assistant Secretary Menardo Montealegre told a media briefing the other day that Duterte and Xi were to sign agreements covering education, science and technology, economic and social development, but gave no details.
He simply added: “Both leaders will witness the signing of a number of cooperative bilateral documents and memorandum of understanding aimed to further increase the breadth and depth of cooperation between the Philippines and China.”
Duterte is also scheduled to meet China Vice President Wang Qishan in Guangdon, a province southwest of Fujian, to “discuss ways to strengthen cooperation, increase trade and investment, and deepen friendship.”
Duterte and Wang have agreed to watch together a FIBA World Cup basketball game between the Philippine team Gilas Pilipinas and Italy on Aug. 31 in Foshan, China.
These are other bilateral issues that could crop up in the Duterte-Xi talks, their eighth since 2016, if both sides are ready and willing:
• Joint exploration for mineral resources in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Duterte has no objection to the 60-40-percent sharing of the fruits of the joint enterprise as proposed by China. This could be an ice-breaker in the atmosphere that has suddenly turned chilly.
• The slow delivery of promised loans and grants for Duterte’s pet infrastructure projects. The clogging seems to occur on both ends of the pipeline.
• Repeated intrusions into Philippine territorial waters of Chinese oceanographic survey ships and naval vessels with their radio identification systems turned off and without the required prior clearance.
• China’s having built and militarized artificial islands in the Philippine EEZ in an aggressive and unfriendly manner that has damaged the maritime ecosystem and posed a continuing threat to national security.
• The fleshing out of an oral (Duterte said “verbal”) agreement that would open Philippine seas to Chinese fishing fleets. The terms of the alleged contract, if there is indeed one, have not been disclosed and discussed.
• The proper action to take on the nighttime ramming and sinking last June 9 of a Filipino fishing boat at the Recto Bank off Palawan by a Chinese vessel that sped away instead of rescuing the 22 crew struggling in the brine until a passing Vietnamese boat saved them.
Duterte firm on invoking arbitral ruling
PRESIDENT Duterte firmed up on Wednesday his decision to finally raise the PCA award to Xi even if it upsets China’s paramount leader. The rising criticism in the Philippines over his perceived kowtowing to Beijing may have fired up his resolve.
Speaking at the inauguration of a solar power project in Romblon, Duterte said: “The first thing I’ll bring up before [Xi Jinping] is the arbitral ruling… If I’m not allowed as a President of a sovereign nation to talk whatever I want to talk about, then let us not rather talk altogether. No. Do not control my mouth because that is a gift from God.”
He recalled how Xi had told him not to raise the PCA ruling that China refuses to recognize. He said: “There has got to be something. You cannot just talk air and they said let’s not talk (about it), I said ‘No’.”
He reiterated that the Philippines would not go to war against China, but insisted that the PCA ruling be discussed during his trip next week: “I will tell them, ‘You’ve always been saying we do not have to go to war, we do not have to go to trouble, and let us resolve this controversy peacefully’.
“If I told you that before my term ends I will have to talk to the Chinese about it. So I will ask them. ‘As what you said, and what we agreed upon, we talk to resolve this problem peacefully. Now tell me, how do we start to resolve the problem peacefully?’.”
Duterte had disclosed that Xi warned him of trouble during their first meeting in October 2016 if the Philippines pressed the case. Addressing Beijing, he said: “So whether you like it or not, it will make you happy or not, angry or otherwise, I’m sorry. But we have to talk about the arbitral ruling.”
But while citing the PCA ruling, Duterte may decide that it is not a legal bar to the Philippines’ entering into joint exploration of maritime resources and its signing of a fishing agreement with China. He has said that the UNCLOS allows it.
If such bilateral agreements or contracts are lawful and do not compromise national interests, Duterte should not keep them secret. He should be willing to have them discussed and dissected in the open before they are finalized.