CHINA has offered the Philippines guns and equipment worth $14.4 million as well as a $500-million soft loan to wage its war on drugs and combat terrorism, as Malacañang announced that the two countries could soon share resources in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) through “business tie-ups.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the latest offer came from Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua who met him and Duterte on Monday.
“[The ambassador] told the President: ‘I know your problems in terrorism and in drugs so we would like to help you,’” Lorenzana told reporters.
The Chinese embassy did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Lorenzana said the Philippines might use the $14 million grant to acquire small arms, fast boats or night-vision goggles, adding the deal would be finalized before year-end.
China also offered long-term soft loans worth $500 million which the Philippines would get next year to fight illegal drugs and terrorism, Lorenzana added.
Beijing has publicly backed the controversial anti-drug campaign, which has left 5,300 people dead in less than six months and drawn criticism from the United Nations and the United States, Manila’s ally.
Duterte launched an unprecedented anti-crime crackdown after winning the May elections on a pledge to eradicate drugs by killing tens of thousands of criminals.
Despite their conflicting territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte has sought warmer relations with Beijing.
He has repeatedly credited China for offering to supply the Philippines with arms and aid under generous terms.
Lorenzana said his aides would visit China next year to inspect the weapons on offer.
“Maybe within the next quarter or second quarter of next year, we would be able to get the equipment,” the Defense chief said.
He added China was also spending on a drug rehabilitation center in the Philippines following the inauguration of a major facility in October funded by a Chinese businessman.
Dispute not discussed
Lorenzana said the West Philippine Sea dispute was not discussed in the Monday meeting.
On Tuesday, however, Malacañang said Duterte plans to “share” natural resources in the disputed waters with China through business tie-ups.
“These are not government-to-government agreements but it may be business-to-business agreements. It may be [the]private sector,” Abella told reporters.
Abella stressed that the government won’t set aside the July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that invalidated Beijing’s extensive claims in the disputed waters, clarifying the President’s remarks on Monday that he would not bring up the ruling for now.
“The government can still [and]will continue to adhere to the ruling because these are our properties, technically our properties,” Abella said.
A Chinese official welcomed Duterte’s remarks.
In a press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China appreciates the Duterte administration’s policy on the sea row that “meets the fundamental interests of the two countries and two peoples and exemplifies the increasingly deepened mutual trust and amicable relations between the two.”
“Ever since President Duterte’s successful visit to China last October, China-Philippines relations have improved across the board and moved forward,” Hua was quoted as saying in a translated transcript issued by the ministry.
“Bilateral mutual trust keeps building up and pragmatic cooperation in various fields runs in full fledge with fruitful results. China is willing to work with the Philippines to enhance political mutual trust, properly handle the South China Sea issue and realize common development,” she added.
But in Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. clarified that the Philippines “will not deviate from the four corners of the ruling.”
He noted that the Philippines is a state party to the United Nations Charter and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), and therefore the Constitution mandates that the generally accepted principles enshrined in these treaties are part of national law.
“As such, the Philippines will respect its rights and responsibilities under these treaties, including those rights recently reaffirmed by the July 12th ruling of the arbitral tribunal on maritime entitlements in the South China Sea,” Yasay said.
Duterte and Yasay have been roundly slammed by diplomatic and political experts for their supposed soft stance on the dispute.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario lamented that the Duterte administration seems “to be on a track to relinquish [the]gains that have been made to benefit our people.”
Del Rosario initiated the arbitration case against China.
“We appear to be well on the way to placing the country’s future in the hands of our northern neighbor who – even as our government had fostered a closer relations between our two countries – is now effectively demeaning our stand for upholding the rule of law by its continuing and clear violations of Unclos to our detriment,” he said.
‘Rule of the jungle’
In a television interview, Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, expressed frustration over the prevailing “rule of the jungle.”
“What’s happening now is when it comes to the issue of the West Philippine Sea, the government is disregarding the rule of law. It’s now about rule of the jungle – we are following the strongest,” he said.
Batongbacal said the credibility of the Philippines will suffer from the sharp change of foreign policy.
“Secretary Yasay said that he will pursue peaceful means concerning the dispute, but the problem is, he is not upholding the principle of the international law. We are only accepting the interest of China for them to peacefully do whatever they want,” he stressed.
Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda College of Law warned that the government’s stance weakens any future moves of the Philippines to defend its territory.
“We have to be firm about our rights. If in the future we would assert our rights under international law, who would believe us if they could argue that we gave our territory to China and disregarded our rights?” he said in a radio interview.