Manila would not let Beijing run roughshod over its maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as affirmed by a 2016 decision by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Thursday said he shall not “allow a single square 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 members of media.
“We’re talking about China. We talk to China consistently with a firm voice,” he emphasized. “We cannot go to war with them. That’s the last thing we need right now.”
The decision declared China’s historical claim in the disputed WPS or South China Sea to be without basis. Beijing has largely ignored the ruling after it refused to recognize the arbitration proceeding.
Marcos said he would uphold the PCA’s decision that negated China’s claim to almost all of the resource-rich waterways disputed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Marcos indicated he would strike a balance in the Philippines’ relations with China and the United States, admitting that, “we are a small player amongst giants in geopolitics.”
“We have to ply our own way,” Marcos said. “I do not subscribe to the old thinking of the Cold War where we had these spheres of influence where you’re under the Soviet Union or you’re under the United States.”
“I think that we have to find an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone. It’s the only way,” Marcos said, striking the same chord as outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s “friends to all, enemy to none” strategy.
Duterte early in his presidency sought a closer relationship with Beijing and he was seen distancing himself from Washington, but the President has since balanced the regional equation, according to observers.
A geopolitical analyst said Washington is keen to preserve its security alliance with Manila which includes a mutual defense treaty and permission for the US military to store defense equipment and supplies on several Philippine bases.
Also on Thursday, Marcos said his first order of business is to streamline government operations through digitalization, adding the country “is somehow left behind” by other nations that have embraced the digital way.
“I’m using the time now and the first of July to plan, to talk to everybody and tell them that the plan is clear. Everybody must understand the things that need to be accomplished,” he stressed.
Among his priorities, he said, is to address unemployment and the increasing prices of basic commodities as well as to provide “some relief to business communities.”
To help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) amid the pandemic, Marcos said he will look into removing some tax collections from the small business owners.
To fulfill his campaign promise of setting the price of rice as low as P20 per kilo, he said the “value chain” should be fixed.
“I have talked to some traders and requested them to freeze the prices of the rice for several months. I think we will be able to do it. That is the first step,” he noted.
He also reiterated his concern over the aging population of agriculture workers. He said the agriculture sector must “employ new technologies” to entice the young to try farming.
Marcos also expressed serious reservations about the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), saying that the local agriculture sector must be “beefed up” first before the government enters into a trade agreement.
“We want to have sufficient food supply for the Philippines in case of any crisis. We should really learn our lesson from the pandemic,” he said.
“We should study what will be the effect on the farming community if we ratify it. Our farmers need protection. We should study how will it impact what our plans are to create a value chain of agriculture,” he pointed out.
Marcos likewise said suspending the collection of excise tax on petroleum products must be “studied thoroughly” to see if there would be a “commensurate return deferring the excise.”
With Agence France-Presse