Malacañang on Tuesday said it will let the United States and China "do their thing" in the disputed South China Sea after a Trump administration official recently criticized Beijing's activities in the resource-rich waters.
"We will let the giants do their thing. Sila naman nagko-kontrol sa totoo lang. Tayo nanonood lang," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters.
Without calling out China by name, US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a security forum in Singapore on Saturday that "some" in the Asia Pacific region had employed a "toolkit of coercion."
Shanahan's Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, meanwhile, said in the same forum that Beijing would not yield an inch of territory.
China, which considers the sea disputes a purely Asian issue, is opposed to any foreign meddling, particularly from the US, accusing Washington of military intervention.
But the US said has repeatedly said that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation, trade and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where a bulk of the world’s trade passes through.
"The Philippines would want stability in that part of the world. The Philippines’ position is that every country has the right to use the waters in the South China Sea as well as the air space. And we want peace and quiet in that area. So anything that will provide such kind of atmosphere we are for it," Panelo said.
"If the presence of the US will make it so, then that’s good for all of us - all of the claimants."
Panelo, however, said the US should not interfere on the sovereignty of the Philippines.
"We will object if they will come to our area because we are supposed to be a sovereign country. No country should also come to our country without our consent or knowledge," he said.
Last Friday, Duterte questioned China's territorial claims even as he professed his "love" for Beijing, which supports his ambitious infrastructure program and other projects.
"I love China, it has helped us a bit. But it behooves upon us to ask, is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean? Or we just leave the high seas as it was during the old days of international law," he said at a forum in Tokyo.
Duterte also indicated that a third party should talk to both the Philippines and China as regards their overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
Other claimants include Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan. — RSJ, GMA News