ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE Antonio Carpio welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that the Philippines will not waver in defending the country’s interests in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea as Manila calls it despite Manila’s strengthened ties with Beijing.
“Well, that’s the correct position. We should never give up our rights there. That can be reconciled. We can continue to trade with China while we continue to defend our sovereign rights,” Carpio said.
“There’s no incompatibility there because we have other relations with China. We have trade. We have cultural and all other matters. But we should not do anything that will waive our rights to the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
The senior magistrate, however, said it would be better if the President elaborated on how the country will protect its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte said the Philippines remains firm in its position on the issue. “Our improved relationship with China does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interest in the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said, adding this reflects in Manila’s continued engagement with the Asian giant through multilateral and bilateral channels.
In 2017, the government launched the first bilateral consultative mechanism on South China Sea with Beijing, where all issues concerning the contested area were discussed in a “frank, in-depth, and friendly manner.”
The Philippines, together with several Southeast Asian countries, also engaged China towards the drafting of the framework of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea issue during its chairmanship to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2017.
These efforts paved the way for an opportunity to manage the dispute without further escalating tensions in the strategic waters, Duterte said. “Opening lines of communication and amicably managing differences have led to positive developments that include renewed access of Filipino fishermen in the areas of dispute in the Philippines’ West Philippine Sea.”
Despite the issue, Duterte initially cited Manila’s re-energized relations with Beijing that led to an unprecedented level of cooperation against transnational crimes. This, according to the President, led to the discovery and dismantling of shabu laboratories in the country and the arrest of Chinese chemists linked to a drug syndicate. (Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)
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