By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (File presidential photo)
MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed intent to meet with former presidents to discuss issues concerning the highly-contested West Philippine Sea (WPS), Malacañang said on Thursday.
“Iniisip niya (Duterte) imbitahin ang mga dating mga Presidente, ilang mga personalidad para magkaroon ng isang pagpupulong ‘no to discuss the issue (He is considering inviting former presidents, other personalities for a meeting to discuss the issue [on WPS]),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a virtual press conference.
The planned meeting between Duterte and his predecessors is an “alternative” to convening the National Security Council (NSC), Roque said.
Duterte, Roque said, has yet to set the date for his possible meeting with the country’s past chief executives.
“The President is considering the idea of an alternative to convening the National Security Council. Pero ‘yun po (However, that is) still in the process of consideration,” Roque said.
Roque issued the statement after Duterte met with former senator Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday to seek his advice on matters related to the WPS issue.
He also made the remarks, after former senator Rodolfo Biazon urged Duterte to convene NSC to come up with a “clear and united” stance on the Philippines’ long-standing disputes with China in WPS.
Biazon made the call, as he lamented that Philippine officials have “confusing” positions on the WPS issue.
Roque, however, denied the government is issuing “confusing” statements on issues surrounding WPS.
“Sa ngayon po, wala pong confusion. Ang confusion ay dahil pinapasukan ng pulitika ng kritiko ng administrasyon iyong isyu ng West Philippine Sea (As of now, there is no confusion. The confusion comes because critics of the administration are politicizing the West Philippine Sea issue),” he said.
Roque maintained that Duterte made a “clear” stance that he would uphold the country’s sovereign rights over WPS and would not let any country occupy any of the Philippine territories.
“Hinding-hindi tayo mamimigay ng teritoryo at paninindigan at pangangalagaan natin ang pang-nasyunal na soberenya at ang ating mga sovereign rights (We will never give any of our territories and we will fight or and protect our national sovereignty and sovereign rights),” he said.
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won its petition against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, after the court invalidated Beijing’s supposed historic rights over nearly the entire South China Sea.
China has repeatedly ignored the 2016 PCA ruling, while the Philippines has sought to resolve the sea dispute through a diplomatic approach.
Filipino fishermen’s interests protected
Despite the Philippines’ warmer ties with China, Duterte told Beijing on May 13 that Manila would “not move an inch backward” from WPS.
On Tuesday, the Philippine government also expressed strong objection to China’s unilateral fishing ban in WPS.
China’s supposed moratorium runs from May 1 to August 16 and covers “waters north of 12 degrees north latitude” which encroaches areas on Philippine territory and exclusive economic zone, including the Bajo de Masinloc.
Roque ensured that the government, through the Philippine Coast Guard, is protecting the interests of Filipino fishermen.
“So diyan lang po kayo sa ating mga tradisyunal na fishing grounds at nandiyan naman po ang ating Coast Guard para pangalagaan din po ang interes ng ating mga mangingisda (So, just stay there in your traditional fishing grounds because our Coast Guard is there to protect the interests of our fishermen,” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest against China’s fishing moratorium on May 17.
The DFA said Beijing cannot legally impose or enforce such a ban in WPS, saying it “extends far beyond China’s legitimate maritime entitlements under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and is without basis under international law.” (PNA)