Malacañang on Thursday refused to acknowledge as a “strong statement” President Rodrigo Duterte’s raising of the legal victory of the Philippines against China in the South China Sea row before the United Nations Assembly, saying that the remarks were a mere “restatement” of the existing policy of his administration.
“I don’t think it’s a strong statement. It was a restatement of an old, existing policy,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said in a televised Palace press briefing.
“Kampanya palang po sinabi na ni Presidente na hindi niya isusurrender maski isang inch ng ating teritoryo. ‘Yan po ay pagiging consistent lamang. Wala po tayong ipamimigay na teritoryo at paninindigan po natin ang ating panalo sa UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,” he added.
(Even during his presidential campaign, the President has already said that he will not surrender an inch of our territory. That is just being consistent. We will not surrender our territory and we will uphold our victory in the UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.)
Speaking for the first time before the UN General Assembly, Duterte described the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague that struck down China’s expansive claims in the disputed waters as “beyond compromise.”
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” Duterte said.
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he added.
Duterte’s strongly-worded speech is in stark contrast to his initial reaction to the ruling, which was issued by the PCA shortly after he took office in 2016.
China has been pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea, refusing to recognize the 2016 ruling which invalidated its ambitious nine-dash line feature which virtually owns the entire body of water.
Meanwhile, Duterte has chosen to shelve the PCA ruling in exchange for Chinese economic perks to help fund his administration’s infrastructure projects even as the Asian powerhouse continues its military activities within the Philippine territory.