Robredo: Duterte, Panelo should get their statements straight

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — Vice President Leni Robredo is not holding back on comments regarding what she believes are contradicting statements from President Rodrigo Duterte and the Palace spokesman.

In her weekly radio show, Robredo said it's confusing when Duterte and Panelo says different things about the same issue.

Robredo was referring to Duterte's recent statements on the issue of the planned joint oil exploration by the Philippines and China. In an interview with Malacañang reporters Tuesday night, Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping had promised to give the Philippines the bigger chunk – 60 percent – of the revenues from the planned gas joint exploration if Duterte sets aside the arbitral ruling.

Robredo said, "Kaya tayo nag-statement kasi nabahala tayo sa pahayag ng Pangulo. Parang sinasabi niya, papasok tayo sa isang joint exploration deal with China, 60 percent iyong sa Pilipinas, 40 percent sa China. Pero nakita naman natin...iyong transcript. Talaga namang sinabi ng Pangulo na i-set aside iyong arbitral ruling. In fact, kahapon, nasa balita, lumabas ito sa ilang pahayagan, na may sinabi pa yata siya na ito iyong... ito iyong hinihingi, ito iyong hiningi ng Chinese Premiere, na papayag sila sa isang 60-40 deal, basta i-set aside iyong arbitral ruling."

[Translation: The reason why we released a statement is because we were alarmed by what the President said. It's like he said we would enter into a joint exploration deal with China, 60 percent would be for the Philippines, 40 percent for China. We saw the transcript. The President really said, to set aside the arbitral ruling. In fact, in the news yesterday, it came out in several newspapers, he said something like this was what the Chinese Premiere asked for, they would agree to a 60-40 deal as long as the arbitral ruling was set aside.]

Robredo said the transcript of the President's speech was clear, and they looked at it before releasing a statement.

Robredo criticized the President's statement on Thursday, calling it "profoundly disappointing and extremely irresponsible."

"Entering into any agreement should not come at the expense of upholding our rights to the West Philippine Sea," Robredo said in a statement.

However, Malacañang argued that setting aside the arbitral ruling is not tantamount to abandoning it.

"What the President means is that, as we have repeatedly said and as he has said too, the abirtral ruluing is still subject to talks, between the two countries, negotiation is ongoing peacefully, but meanwhile we focus on other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. also said Beijing "has never made setting aside the arbitral award a prerequisite to anything."

READ: What you need to know about the arbitral tribunal's ruling

READ: China rejects PH arbitral victory on South China Sea anew

Robredo pointed out the contradictions in the statements of Duterte and the spokesperson.

"Iyong pinakapunto lang nito, kaya nga tayo nag-statement, kasi obligasyon nating maging maingat sa mga sinasabi. Kung hindi iyon iyong gustong sabihin, dapat sana hindi sinabi," she said in her radio show.

[Translation: The main point here, the reason why we make a statement, is because we are obligated to be careful about what we say. If that's not what we mean to say, it should not have been said.]

When asked to comment about Panelo's remarks about the Vice President being confused, Robredo said, "Totoo iyon... Litong-lito talaga ako, kasi ang sinasabi ni Pangulo, iba sa sinasabi niya. Nagsabi si Pangulo na i-set aside iyong arbitral ruling; ang sabi niya hindi iyon iyong gustong sabihin. So talagang tama siya: litong-lito ako."

[Translation: That's true... I am very confused because what the President is saying is different from what he (Panelo) is saying. The President said to set aside the arbitral ruling; he said that wasn't what the President meant. So he's correct: I am very confused.]

An international arbitral tribunal constituted under UNCLOS and backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 rejected China's sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea. It also recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in some areas within its EEZ that are being claimed by China.

It remains unclear if disputed areas would be part of the Philippines' joint exploration with China. The memorandum of understanding and terms of reference do not specify the areas to be covered, but the Philippines had earlier offered for oil exploration an area in the Recto Bank, also known as the Reed Bank, which China is contesting. The Hague tribunal has recognized Reed Bank as part of the Philippines' continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

The Recto Bank exploration has been put on hold following a 2012 presidential order freezing all exploration activities in disputed areas. It was issued by then President Benigno Aquino III amid rising tensions with China. Duterte has said he might lift the moratorium to make way for the joint exploration.

CNN Philippines' Eimor P. Santos contributed to this report.