PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he made it clear to Chinese President Xi Jinping that Scarborough Shoal belongs to the Philippines, amid earlier reports that the issue was put on the backburner during his state visit.
“China said this is theirs, but I said this is ours,” Duterte said in Filipino, during a visit to calamity-stricken Tuguegarao City in Cagayan.
Duterte said China has agreed to allow Filipino fishermen to enter the disputed territory even as both sides insist on ownership of the shoal.
“From what I understand, Xi has ordered the Chinese fishermen to leave so that no one will be seen there,” Duterte said in Filipino.
He said he was unsure if the Chinese would fulfill that promise.
During his meeting with Chinese officials, Duterte proposed that both countries keep off the shoal’s inner lagoon, the spawning ground of the shoal that also serves as a safe haven for fishermen from tropical cyclones.
“I said if we are able to return to Scarborough, as owners of the territory, even if they say they own it, I would tell them not to fish there in the inner lagoon,” he said.
In a speech before the residents of typhoon-affected areas, Duterte said China would grant the Philippines up to $24 billion in soft loans.
Duterte said he will use the fund to improve the country’s agriculture and put up small “sari-sari” stores that will serve as financing centers for the poor communities.
During his visit to Typhoon “Lawin” victims in Cagayan, Duterte told local fishermen to “just wait for a few more days” and maybe they can go back to Scarborough Shoal.
Duterte also said he did not discuss war or weapons with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during his state visit to China.
“I went there and we did not discuss firearms. We did not discuss war. We talked about how we can help each other,” the President said.
Since both the Philippines and China claim ownership over Scarborough Shoal, Duterte asked local fishermen not to fish in lagoons that serve as breeding grounds for fish to avoid an imbalance in supply.
“The cheapest thing that we can buy today are marine products. So it’s really a gamble to destroy the spawning ground,” he said.
Chinese coast guard vessels have denied Filipino fishermen access to the disputed shoal.
In July, The Hague arbitration tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on the disputed South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal.
According to the decision, Scarborough Shoal is a common fishing ground of Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese fishermen.
Malacañang on Sunday reiterated that the government will not dismiss the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in its talks with China.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also denied that the government has given up its claims, in reaction to a statement by Senator Risa Hontiveros that the administration has shelved the tribunal’s decision.
“President Duterte’s attempt to make a deal with China in grave disregard of The Hague ruling is wrong,” Hontiveros said.
She also branded as “absurd” Duterte’s asking for China’s approval to allow Filipino fishermen to gain access to the Scarborough Shoal, locally called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
“This renders our hard-fought victory hollow and our sovereignty severely compromised,” the senator added.
Earlier, Duterte said he was not calling for a severance of ties with the United States, but a “separation of foreign policy.”
Addressing a press conference in Davao City after his return from a state visit to China, Duterte said, “It is not severance of ties. You say severance of ties, you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that. Why? It is in the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship… because there are many Filipinos in the United States,” he said.
Duterte’s statement in China that he would cut both economic and military ties with the United States had alarmed many.
“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” Duterte told business leaders Thursday in Beijing.
“And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
In a statement Friday, Malacañang said the Philippines had no intention to renege on treaties or agreements with allies.
The President’s comments were “an assertion that we are an independent and sovereign nation, now finding common ground with friendly neighbors with shared aspirations in the spirit of mutual respect, support and cooperation,” the statement said.
Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said that the Philippines “would not stop trade and investment with the US.”
“[Duterte] has decided to strengthen further and rekindle the ties with China and the Asean region,” Lopez said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In the House, the chairman of the special committee on the West Philippine Sea said Duterte’s pivot to China was the right tact to take to lure much-needed foreign direct investments.
Former House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., chairman of the special panel, said the Philippines would benefit from the deals clinched by Duterte in his recent visit to China and that joint ventures in the contested islands would bring more good than harm to the Philippines.
“I fully support President Duterte’s independent foreign policy. New investments from China would greatly benefit the country,” Belmonte said.
Lawmakers belonging to the minority bloc also supported the President’s preference for China investments.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza said all investments coming from China would be a big help to the country’s economy.
They added that luring foreign direct investments was part of the President’s promise to raise funds that could help alleviate poverty.
Belmonte also allayed fears that engaging in joint ventures with China over disputed islands would mean surrendering claims made by the Philippines.
“It should not be seen as surrendering our claims. We still assert our claim. Meantime, it would benefit us if we engage in joint venture in exploring the wealth of the disputed islands. We need huge capital to do some exploration, particularly on oil offshore,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte, however, cautioned Duterte against antagonizing other allies such as the United States, European Union and Japan in his bid to gain the friendship of China.
“We can make friends with the rest of the world but not at the expense of other countries,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said his panel was already in the process of consulting experts that could provide information on how to best resolve the dispute with China. He said the panel was ready to hold public hearings when Congress resumes its sessions on Nov. 7.
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