Duterte to fight for country’s claim over West Philippine Sea

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 May) – Incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he will continue the efforts of the outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III’s administration in pushing for the country’s ownership over the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte told reporters early Thursday that he had a long discussion with Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua when he came to see him last week.

“We had a long discussion. Whether you like it or not, that (West Philippine Sea) is ours,” he said.

Duterte, who is a lawyer, said that the West Philippine Sea, in which China also insisted an “indisputable sovereignty,” is well within the 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

“I will stick to our claim but we are allowing the proper courts to talk. It will be there as our land whether you want to believe it or not… the point is that it is ours. It is not a question of territory. It is a question that the place is well within the 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone of the country,” he said.

Duterte said that any actions done by the Chinese government that “would obstruct or impede our movement within the 200-kilometer EEZ is a violation of our rights and the law of the seas.”

He said he asked Jianhua for China to allow the Filipino fishermen to fish in the West Philippine Sea while the case is being heard at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in The Hague, Netherlands.

In a forum here last year, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Charles C. Jose said that the Philippine government will rely on the support of the international community.

He said China, the world’s second largest economy, has to respect such ruling if it wants to be seen as a leader in the region.

“At the beginning, when we filed an arbitration case, China said that they do not accept the arbitration process and they will not respect and comply with whatever decision that tribunal will come up with,” he said.

Jose said China’s nine-dash line takes up 80 percent of the West Philippine Sea and 85 percent of South China Sea.

The official was confident the tribunal will favor the Philippines’ position over China’s nine-dash line, which is based on the latter’s historical claims. Otherwise, he said, it would lead to chaos on the exclusivity of maritime territories of other countries.

Disputes on maritime boundaries are supposedly settled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), dubbed the “constitution of the oceans,” Jose said.