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Duterte warns against using tribunal ruling vs. China to 'taunt or flaunt'

Amid a possible favorable ruling from the arbitration court over the territorial spat in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday warned against using the decision to “taunt or flaunt,” saying he doesn’t want to “put the country in an awkward position.”

“We have to make up our minds but we can also prepare our people on where do we go,” Duterte told his Cabinet members in their first meeting, referring to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration to be released on July 12.

In a statement, the Netherlands-based tribunal said it has informed both Philippines and China that the decision will be handed down at approximately 11 a.m The Hague time, 5 p.m. in Manila. 

The Philippines, in 2014, filed an arbitration case against China contesting Beijing’s massive claim on almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have rich deposits in oil and gas. China has refused, however, to participate in the arbitration proceedings. 

“Dito, it’s a cliffhanger kasi if we decide right, we may also find alleviation of some of the problems here. Eh kung sinobrahan natin — it should be a soft-landing from everybody na kung meron man, we don’t really taunt or flaunt it,” Duterte said. 

“We will study progressively kung paano natin magagamit yun. Of course, it would be a moral victory but we can’t put country in an awkward position,” he added. 

Duterte, who had earlier said he is open to bilateral talks with China over the maritime dispute, said he doesn’t want “to declare any fighting with anybody.” 

“If we can have peace, I’ll be very happy,” he said. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. said he is also “averse” to the idea of issuing strong statement in case the ruling is favorable to the Philippines. 

“Those who are concerned about ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the place seem to project the impression that if the decision will come out and it would be in our favor, [they] would like to ask for us make a stronger statement. I am averse to that idea,” Yasay said. 

“The first thing that we will do is to study its implications and ramifications. What does it mean when we win? There are lots of nuisances that we do not know as yet,” he added. 

Yasay cautioned that China could again harass Filipino fishermen in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, locally called Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc. 

“What if, in the phase of these circumstances, China will dig in and put us to a test? They will disallow again our fishermen into Scarborough shoal. I think if this should happen, there is no point for us,” Yasay said. —JST, GMA News