Marcos: PH to assert WPS arbitral ruling, talk to China with firm voice

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) — President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on Thursday said he would assert the Philippines' rights over the West Philippine Sea and talk to China "consistently with a firm voice" about the two countries' territorial dispute in the area.

"Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way," he told selected media. "We will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal...rights to be trampled upon."

Marcos added he would use the July 2016 international arbitral ruling against China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea to assert the country's territorial rights.

"Nasa atin na yung [We have the] arbitral ruling... We have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It's not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us," he added.

Marcos, who is set to take office on June 30, also said he would talk to China and the country's Southeast Asian neighbors to iron out differences over disputed waters.

"And how do we do that? We talk to China, consistently with a firm voice," he added.

But at the same time, Marcos said going to war with China was not an option. It echoed the stance of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been criticized for not standing up to China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed area.

"Gusto pa ba nating gawin, manggi-giyera pa ba tayo ngayon? Papasok pa tayo sa giyera [Do we want war now? Do we want war] when that's the last thing we need right now. We have to discuss with them the conflicting terms that we have...and China has with other members of ASEAN," he said.

The incoming chief executive said he discussed the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the latter called to congratulate him over the poll results.

"Nonetheless, we have to continue to pursue bilateral contact and communication with China... I immediately said that we have to continue to talk about this... This cannot be allowed to fester," he added.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario welcomed Marcos’ statement.

“We are deeply thankful that President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. declared what Filipinos would like to hear: that the 2016 Arbitral Ruling is not a claim but already a right; that our sovereignty is “sacred” and that he would not “allow a single millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon,” Del Rosario said.

The former top diplomat added that war has never been an option for the Philippines as it is outlawed by the country’s constitution and international law.

But he said the President, as chief protector of national territory, can fulfill his duty in various ways including raising the arbitral award at the United Nations General Assembly and other international fora, consolidating the support of other countries that believe in the award and the rule of law, making China accountable for the environmental crimes it committed in the West Philippine Sea, and building a minimum credible defense posture to protect national territory.