Marcos will ‘tread carefully’ in sea row

PRESIDENT-ELECT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos will be taking a “very measured and balanced approach” in the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, an envoy said Friday.

Marcos made the statement during his meeting with Australian Ambassador Steven James Robinson at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City.

Robinson assured Marcos that Australia will continue to support the Philippines’ victory in its arbitral case against China’s sweeping claims over the disputed waters.

On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) favored the Philippines’ petition to invalidate China’s claim of its supposed historic rights over practically the entire South China Sea.

“So, I think the president-elect is going to take a very measured and balanced approach in terms of how he approaches all of these issues to seek the best outcome he can for the Philippines,” Robinson told reporters after the meeting.

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“And I think any pragmatic politician would do exactly the same — to try and work out how do you get the best for your country in difficult circumstances. And that’s what I’m anticipating from Marcos,” he said.

Robinson said he also relayed Australia’s commitment to supporting the Philippines in dealing with “difficult regional issues.”

“I reiterated our commitment to the Philippines in supporting the outcome of the arbitral award and supporting the Philippines as it goes forward dealing with difficult regional issues,” he said.

Australia has formed a security alliance with the United States and Britain to challenge China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Marcos earlier said he would assert the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea and talk to China “consistently with a firm voice” about the two countries’ territorial dispute in the area.

“Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way,” Marcos had told reporters. “We will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal…rights to be trampled upon.”

The incoming president had also said he would use the 2016 arbitral ruling to assert the Philippines’ territorial rights.

“Nasa atin na ‘yung (We have the) arbitral ruling…. We have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It’s not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us,” he said.

Marcos, who will take his oath as president on June 30, said he will engage not only China but the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors in reaching a peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.

“And how do we do that? We talk to China, consistently with a firm voice,” he said.

China has ignored the arbitral ruling, while the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte maintained its position to resolve the sea disputes through diplomatic negotiation.

At one point, Duterte even said that Manila cannot yet stand up to Beijing, whose military and economy are far superior.

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

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