President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on Thursday said his administration would defend the country's sovereignty by talking to China "with a firm voice."
"Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way," Marcos said in his first press briefing after his proclamation by Congress, stressing that when it comes to the country's sovereignty, there should be "no room for negotiation there."
China has declared massive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have overlapping claims. Manila has renamed parts of the waters that fall within its territory as West Philippine Sea.
In his strongest comments yet on the longstanding source of tensions between the two nations, Marcos said he would not "allow a single millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon".
"We have a very important ruling in our favor and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right," Marcos told selected local media.
"We're talking about China and how do we do that? We talk to China consistently with a firm voice," he said.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, following a case filed by the Philippines, invalidated China's sweeping claims over the waters. Beijing, which boycotted the hearings, does not recognize the ruling.
The son of the late dictator and his namesake, Marcos said the Philippines need not go to war with China to assert its claim over the vast West Philippine Sea.
"That (war) is the last thing we need right now," he said. "So we have to continue to discuss with them the conflicting claims that we have with China and that China has with other members of the ASEAN."
Despite repeated calls and protests from the Philippines, Chinese ships continue to linger in West Philippine Sea and have even been spotted in other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group in the municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan off the country’s northwestern waters.
China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea demonstrates its resolve to assert claims over the waters, while ignoring calls from several countries backing the Philippines, such as the United States, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand to leave and cease raising tensions in the area.
Marcos, who will formally take office on June 30, also said as far as foreign policy is concerned, he would not adopt the "slightly unorthodox approach" of Duterte, who rattled diplomats with his firebrand rhetoric and mercurial nature.
Marcos said he is fine with an independent foreign policy "where we are friends with everyone," adding he would seek to strike a balance between China and the United States, which are vying to have the closest ties with his administration.
Further, Marcos acknowledged that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would play a huge role in the discussion of the territorial issues in the West Philippine Sea.
"I think ASEAN will still be a very critical part of that discussion, but nonetheless, we also have to continue to pursue bilateral contact and communication with China," he said.
"In fact this is what I mentioned when I spoke to President Xi, he called me to congratulate me on winning the election... I immediately (inaudible), I said we have to continue to talk about this, this cannot be allowed to fester and to become more severe in terms of a problem between our two countries," he added.
He also shared his thoughts on the mega trade deal Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in which the Philippines is a signatory; and the alleged corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs. —with Agence France-Presse/KBK, GMA News