Sotto expects 'friendly' talk with Chinese envoy on West PH Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III is looking forward to an "informal meeting" with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian next week to discuss issues in the West Philippine Sea.

Speaking to Senate reporters on Thursday, Sotto said a friend, whom he did not name, invited him to an event on Tuesday, May 11, which will also be attended by Huang.

When asked if they will talk about the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, Sotto said he's certain the matter will be discussed.

"I need not bring it up; I'm sure he'll bring it up also. If not, I'll ask him about it," Sotto said. "Parang tayong magkaibigan - ano ba pare, paano ba natin maaayos tong bakuran natin, di ba?"

[Translation: Like in a conversation between friends - hey buddy, how can we fix this, right?]

Sotto called it his "own little way" of helping find out "what we can do to better foster friendly relationships with them."

The Philippines has been sending diplomatic protests to China since March as the military keeps on spotting Chinese militia and fishing vessels in areas within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Although the 2016 arbitral ruling recognizes the Philippines' sovereign rights over areas in its 200-nautical mile EEZ that China contests, President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday downplayed the landmark decision as a mere piece of paper.

Duterte has been criticized for having a defeatist stance on the maritime row, but Sotto said he understands where the President is coming from.

"Of course, the ruling favors us but what does it contain? It didn't say that China should leave. Sinasabi lang na meron tayong karapatan doon (It just says we have rights there)," Sotto said.

He added there are only two options moving forward.

"One, negotiate. Two, go to war. Which one do you want? If I were the President, I will ask those critics," Sotto said.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has been urging the Duterte administration to file a case before the United Nations to compel China to stop its incursions and abide by the arbitral ruling. Duterte and his officials have repeatedly refused to do so, saying it would open a relitigation which the Philippines might lose.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to deliberate on a proposed resolution against China's "illegal actions" in the West Philippine Sea when it resumes sessions on May 17.

READ: Senate likely to pass West PH Sea resolution with amendments