Duterte: new Chinese barges at Scarborough; talks with Beijing to be premised on UN ruling


MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte revealed Friday that he has received a report that China had recently brought in new barges to disputed areas in the Scarborough Shoal, wondering aloud if there is any new construction about to take place there, but said he will not initiate multilateral discussions on the South China Sea at next week’s ASEAN meeting.

Nonetheless, the President said, he will make it clear to Beijing officials, should a one-on-one occasion arise, that he will keep all talks strictly within the ambit of the UN arbitral tribunal ruling that Manila won last July 12.

“I do not intend to raise the issue of [the South China Sea] before the ASEAN,” despite the continuing acts of China signalling it stuck to its position to ignore the ruling handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. That ruling, won after a three-year initiative by the Aquino administration, rejected China’s “nine dash line” claim in the SCS, which Manila had called “excessive.”

“I hope China realizes that we went out of our way, we walked the extra mile to keep the peace.”

Speaking at the inauguration of the Davao International Container Terminal, Duterte credited his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, for securing the UN tribunal ruling.

Duterte said he will not, on his own, raise the issue of the SCS when he attends next week’s ASEAN Summit in Laos.

‘Nothing against China, but will stick to UN ruling’

“I have nothing against China now. I do not intend to raise the issue before the ASEAN, because if I do, there’s going to be a convoluted thing there, kanya-kanya na. When as a matter of fact, if it’s just an issue between the Philippines and China,” Duterte said.

“But, for sure, and you can be very sure of this,” the President added, “that when we face bilaterals, [when I’m face to face with my counterparts] from Beijing or somewhere — I said, there will… there will be a time when I will say that, ‘This is the arbitral ruling, and if you want to talk to me, this will be my platform, and we do not go out of the four corners of this document.’”

He added, “whether or not I will proceed, and my predicate for my willingness to talk to you, is the [UN tribunal] judgment in our favor.”

He said he will not go saber-rattling despite a report from the Coast Guard that Chinese barges were being brought in anew to the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales, which China has de facto occupied since 2012 and has blocked access to Filipino fishermen.

“We are all for peace. I don’t want to ignite anything there,” he said.