PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is not abandoning the international ruling invalidating China’s sweeping claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Malacañang assured the public on Thursday, even after the Chief Executive said he would ignore it in exchange for a joint oil and gas exploration deal with Beijing.

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement after former Foreign Affairs Chief Albert del Rosario said the Philippine government needed to set aside the arbitral ruling to conduct a joint exploration in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

"The problem with him (Del Rosario) is he talks a lot but as the President says he is behind the loss of Scarborough Shoal. And moreover, the setting aside does not mean that we will abandon it," Panelo told reporters during a press conference.

"What the President means is that, as we have repeatedly said and as he said too, the arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries, negotiations are ongoing peacefully. But meanwhile we focus with other concerns that may mutually benefit the two countries," he said.

Duterte, accused by critics of being too soft on China in the West Philippine Sea row, on Tuesday said the government would "ignore" the ruling so that the Philippines could do a joint oil and gas exploration.

“Set aside your claim. Then allow everybody connected with the Chinese companies,” Duterte said, quoting Xi.

“They want to explore and if there is something, sabi nila (they said), ‘We would be gracious enough to give you 60 percent.’ Forty lang ang kanila (They will only get 40 percent). That is the promise of Xi Jinping,” he said.

But Del Rosario reminded Duterte "that ‘to come up with an economic activity’ in our EEZ need not involve setting aside the Arbitral Ruling and running afoul of the Constitution."

Citing the suggestion of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the former foreign affairs secretary said that a joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea would be "constitutional and consistent" with the arbitral ruling if China would get into a service contract with the Philippines.

"If a service contract arrangement is followed, where a Chinese company participates either as an equity holder or a subcontractor, the President would remain faithful to the Constitution and the Arbitral Ruling," Del Rosario said in a statement.

"In this way, the President will also not turn back on his promise to the Filipino people made during his Oct. 16, 2016 departure speech, as he embarked on State visits to Brunei Darussalam and China, that he cannot be the ‘sole authorized agent’ to share with the Chinese, our EEZ which belongs exclusively to the Filipino people," he added.

In July 2016, the Philippines sealed a historic win against China when the arbitral tribunal invalidated Beijing’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.

China refused to recognize the ruling and continued with its militarization and reclamation in some areas in the disputed sea. CATHERINE S. VALENTE