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Duterte to Vietnam: PHL holding on to tribunal ruling vs. China

By VIRGIL LOPEZ,GMA News

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday assured his Vietnamese counterpart that the Philippines was not abandoning the decision of the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 that invalidated China's excessive claims over the South China Sea.

Duterte made the remark during his bilateral meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on the sidelines of the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore where the security tensions in the disputed waters was expected to be taken up by the 10-member bloc.

"I guess the President just wanted it very clear that we are not abandoning, we are not ignoring, we are not setting aside the arbitral tribunal decision which is in our favor and that he will deal with that arbitral award in due course. Not now but in the right time," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a news conference.

"He made it very clear to a head of state that he recognizes the gains of the arbitral award and that he will refer to the arbitral award in due course because he wants the totality of the West Philippine Sea controversy settled under the rule of law and pursuant to the binding norms of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Roque said Nyuyen praised the Philippines' position even as Duterte stressed to his Vietnamese counterpart that the decision "is only binding to the parties in the arbitration."

The Palace official added it was Nguyen who raised the matter because the Vietnamese leader was seeking support for the joint submission of Malaysia and Vietnam to the UN in 2009 that lays claim on the continental shelf in the southern part of the disputed waters.

Roque also hoped that critics of Duterte, who has been seen by some observers as being too soft on China's territorial claims, "will now keep quiet" following the President's meeting with the Vietnamese leader.

"I hope that [Supreme Court] Justice [Antonio] Carpio and all the critics of President Duterte will now keep quiet because this is now a statement of the Philippine president made to another head of state that he has not abandoned, he is not reneging, he is not relinquishing, [and] he is not in any way ignoring the arbitral decision," Roque said.

Beijing has since refused to recognize the ruling, which Duterte temporarily set aside in order to forge closer ties with China, the world's second largest economy.

Asked if China will react negatively to the result of the meeting between the Philippines and Vietnam on the issue, Roque said: "I don't think so because they have their own bilateral discussions ongoing."

China and Vietnam have long traded barbs over the resource-rich South China Sea, which Beijing claims most of.

Tensions between Vietnam and China over the sea came to a head in 2014 when Beijing moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi, sparking weeks of deadly anti-China protests across Vietnam.

Over the recent years, Beijing has taken a more assertive stance in the waters, beefing up its reclamation activities in disputed areas and transformed previously submerged features into artificial islands with multi-level buildings and runways.

Calls for an early conclusion of a code of conduct have heightened in recent years due to a series of confrontations between China and its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors with overlapping territorial claims, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. Other claimants include Malaysia and Taiwan. —NB/LBG, GMA News