Panelo: No setting aside of arbitral court ruling

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    THE Philippines will not ignore or set aside the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which favored the country in its territorial dispute with China, but will merely focus on other areas of cooperation between the two countries, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

    Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, was clarifying reports about a statement made Tuesday night by President Duterte who said Chinese President Xi Jinping told him the ruling should be ignored and set aside if the Philippines and China were to pursue a joint exploration in disputed areas in South China Sea, and for the country to get 60 percent of whatever will be collected from the joint exploration for gas.

    Duterte did not say if he had agreed to Xi’s offer, but said the part of the arbitral award that referred to the exclusive economic zone “we will ignore to come up with an economic activity.”

    Panelo said: “I’m explaining to you the context by which he said that. By that, he means pinag-uusapan pa rin peacefully. Kumbaga, hindi kino-confront immediately. Nag-uusap pa rin kung how to resolve it (I’m explaining to you the context by which he said that. By that, he means, it is being discussed peacefully. It is not being confronted immediately. We are talking about how to resolve it).”

    He added: “The setting aside doesn’t mean that we will abandon it. 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 without other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries.”

    Duterte went to China last month, his fifth visit to the country. Before that, he said he would raise the ruling of the Netherlands-based court, which rejected China’s massive claim to the South China Sea, with Xi. China does not recognize the ruling.

    Duterte also said he wanted to pursue discussions on a 60-40 sharing scheme in a planned joint exploration at the Recto Bank, or Reed Bank, in the South China Sea. Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

    Duterte, on his return from China, said a screening committee would be formed to handle the planned joint exploration.

    Vice President Leni Robredo said Duterte’s “declaration by the President that he will ignore” the arbitral ruling to pave the way for a joint oil and gas exploration agreement with China is “profoundly disappointing and extremely irresponsible.”

    “Entering into any agreement should not come at the expense of upholding our rights to the West Philippine Sea. Our own Constitution already grants the State ample authority to enter into agreements with foreign entities for exploration and development of oil and gas resources, provided that these shall lead to `real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.’

    Why, then, was this reckless pronouncement made?” she said.

    Robredo also said that Duterte, in attempting to justify his move, “has once more tried to argue that in the matter of the West Philippine Sea, the only two choices available to us are capitulation or conflict.”

    “Open warfare is far from the sole means of asserting our rights to our EEZ, as our neighboring nations Vietnam and Indonesia have recently and repeatedly proven, she said.

    Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated his position that the government should not set aside the 2016 ruling.

    “We would like to respectfully emphasize that the President has a choice not to set aside the arbitral ruling to come up with an economic activity in our exclusive economic zone. 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,” he said.

    “We would like to emphasize that the preservation of our national patrimony, which includes our exclusive economic zone, is infinitely more valuable than coming up with an economic activity in the exclusive economic zone,” he added.

    Earlier, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said if cooperation with Beijing in the exploration is done through service contractors, then the country’s sovereignty is “safe.”

    He said Beijing could even come in as a sub-contractor of Forum Energy that holds an exploration permit at the Recto Bank in Palawan. – With Ashzel Hachero