MANILA – The Philippines will not relinquish its territorial claims in the hotly-contested South China Sea (SCS), President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. maintained on Tuesday (Zurich time).
In an interview with Bloomberg on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Marcos emphasized that pursuing diplomatic talks with China to settle the maritime dispute is not tantamount to abandoning the Philippines’ claims to the SCS.
“We cannot concede any of the territorial claims that are being made against our established territory. That is the red line,” Marcos said.
“That is something that will not move. It’s something that we cannot cross because it’s a very slippery road from there,” he added.
This, as Marcos admitted that breaking the stalemate between the Philippines and China was “difficult” because the two countries are both reluctant to give up their claims.
“That’s a difficult thing to have to do because the impasse, really, has occurred in the application of the law. Both sides say that this area belongs — we say it is the maritime territory of the Philippines, and, of course, China says the same,” he said.
The Philippines and China, along with other littoral states, have overlapping claims in the SCS, with Beijing claiming around 80 percent of the busy waterway.
The Philippines on July 12, 2016 won its petition filed before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) after the arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s claim of supposed historic rights over almost the entire SCS.
China, however, has ignored the PCA ruling.
Marcos said Manila and Beijing still have several options to address the SCS disputes.
He said the possible joint oil and gas exploration in the SCS could be one of the ways to address the Philippines’ territorial disputes with China.
“We may find a way around that, it’d be limited to exploration. Hopefully, I think there’s still some give-and-take there,” Marcos said.
Marcos also stressed the need to fix the apparently “poor communication” between the two countries, considering that there are still “incidents” in the SCS.
“We call them ‘incidents’ that had been going on in the past few weeks, months. It really is a clear indication that there is poor communication between the two sides,” he said.
“I suggested, and I think we’re going to establish it, is that we will have a line of communication that is higher up. We already have a bilateral group that is working on the issues in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea. But I think it should be raised to a certain level,” Marcos added.
Marcos noted that there was also a commitment from the United States (US) to help the Philippines, if the tension in the SCS escalates.
He, however, hoped that the US’ role will only be limited to building a presence in the disputed waters.
“They have already made that commitment. As a matter of fact, when there are certain reports that come in, some of the American ships come down and make their presence felt. So, we’re hoping to maintain it at that level,” Marcos said, emphasizing that his utmost priority is to maintain peace.