Duterte not dropping claim on WPS for joint oil exploration: Panelo

President Rodrigo Duterte is not setting aside the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in favor of a joint oil and gas exploration with China, Malacañang said on Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador made this clarification after former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said there was no need for government to “ignore” the arbitral ruling to give way to economic activity with China.

In a media interview on Tuesday (Sept. 10), Duterte was quoted saying the “exclusive economic zone is part of the arbitral ruling which we will ignore to come up with an economic activity.”

Panelo explained that Duterte did not mean that he is abandoning Philippine claims on the disputed sea by using the word “ignore.”

“What the President means is that, as we have repeatedly said and as he has said too, the arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries. Negotiation is ongoing peacefully. But meanwhile, we focus on the other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

He criticized del Rosario for his comments about the way the President handled the sea dispute blaming him for losing control over the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) during the previous administration.

“The problem with him is he talks a lot. But as the President says, he was behind the loss of Scarborough Shoal. Moreover, the setting aside (of the arbitral ruling) doesn’t mean that we will abandon it,” Panelo said.

“We already responded to all his opinions and he should look at himself in the mirror and admit that he is the one responsible for losing Scarborough Shoal,” he added.

Panelo also denied that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. refuted the President when he said that China has never made ignoring the arbitral ruling a “prerequisite” to come up with a joint exploration.

“He (Locsin) did not say that Philippines will drop the claim. What was he said, the arbitral ruling is still subject to peaceful talks,” Panelo said.

“In other words, impasse pa e so hayaan na muna natin mag-usap (there’s still an impasse so let’s allow them to talk). Let’s talk about other things like this joint exploration. He’s not refuting the President,” he added.

Panelo pointed out that what Duterte meant was that he was opting not to confront China about the arbitral ruling “immediately.”

“Kumabaga, hindi kino-confront immediately nag-uusap pa rin (It’s as if saying, we’re not confronting immediately since we’re still talking) how to resolve it. Not set aside, but set aside in the sense na ‘O sige pag-usapan natin ‘yan’. Yun ang ibig sabihin nun (‘Let’s talk about it. That’s what he meant),” Panelo said.

“Hindi yung naka-focus lang doon (We won’t just focus on the arbitral ruling alone). The relationship between the two countries is not measured by the conflict in the West Philippine Sea alone,” he added.

Earlier, del Rosario cited the suggestion of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to agree on a service contract arrangement with China to remain faithful to the arbitral ruling.

“If a service contract arrangement is followed, where a Chinese company participates either as an equity holder or a subcontractor, the President would remain faithful to the Constitution and the arbitral ruling,” del Rosario said in a statement.

“In this way, the President will also not turn back on his promise to the Filipino people made during his October 16, 2016 departure speech, as he embarked on State visits to Brunei Darussalam and China, that he cannot be the ‘sole authorized agent’ to share with the Chinese, our EEZ which belongs exclusively to the Filipino people,” he added. PNA.GOV.PH