Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Thursday slammed former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, repeating his accusation that the former top diplomat was responsible for the loss of the country's possession of the Scarborough Shoal.
Del Rosario had earlier urged the Duterte administration to "unshelf" the arbitral tribunal ruling in 2016 that invalidated China's excessive claims in the South China Sea.
In response, Panelo denied that the ruling had been shelved, saying that it was "unenforceable."
"It only remains unenforceable because no foreign force seems persuaded to help us enforce it, and neither do we have the capability of enforcing it alone by force," Panelo said in a statement on April 14.
He also blamed Del Rosario for the loss of Scarborough Shoal in that statement, and added that "armed acts of enforcement" may cause a bloody war to the detriment of the Philippines.
Panelo's pronouncements did not sit well with Del Rosario, who led the filing of the arbitration case against China. On Wednesday, he called the Palace spokesperson “mindless,” and said that he “appears to be in surrender without lifting a finger to peacefully defend what is ours.”
Panelo has now hit back at Del Rosario's “reckless statements.”
“What is mindless is when one makes reckless statements under the guise of pretended patriotism on unverified reports of intrusion or harassment, or performs actions that could provoke an armed retaliation,” he said.
Panelo then questioned Del Rosario’s claim that the US had brokered a deal that called for the simultaneous withdrawal of both Philippine and Chinese ships that were in a tense standoff at the shoal in 2012.
China’s ships never left the area, giving Beijing de facto control over the shoal off Zambales province for seven years now.
“There is no proof that the United States has brokered an agreement for the Philippines and China to withdraw their respective vessels during the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012,” Panelo said.
“Even if there was such brokering, Mr. Del Rosario’s ordering the withdrawal of Philippine vessel or vessels without the knowledge and consent of former President [Benigno III] Aquino demonstrated his inexperience and naïveté in the art of psychological warfare.”
Panelo said the Philippines lost Scarborough due to Del Rosario’s “horrendous mistake.”
“We are now trying to fix his mess, and no amount of justification from him could justify his monumental blunder,” he said.
The Palace official insisted again that there was no shelving of the arbitral ruling that spelled out the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, an area of the resource-rich South China Sea being claimed by Manila.
“Our position has been consistent in that there is no system of enforcing the arbitral ruling. The International Tribunal has no armed component to enforce its decision in the event that the losing state refuses to recognise the judgment,” he said.
He also said President Rodrigo Duterte’s previous statements that he would not in the meantime raise the arbitral ruling as he discusses trade relations with China should not be seen as shelving the judgment.
“By repeatedly making such statements, he in fact puts China on notice that such issue remains and a sword of Damocles hanging over its head,” Panelo said.
He said Duterte believes that the best way to resolve the maritime dispute is through “peaceful and diplomatic negotiations with China, a mode that avoids a violent confrontation to resolve international disputes.”
“Adopting such universally accepted dispute resolution relative to the present conflict is not an act of weakness nor is it deemed to be abandonment or shelving of the arbitration ruling in our favor,” Panelo said.
Duterte on Wednesday said the Philippines and China should “meet halfway” in resolving the maritime row.
The President will fly to Beijing later this month to attend the second Belt and Road forum where he is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
It was not immediately clear whether the developments in the South China Sea will be discussed during the meeting. — BM, GMA News