By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Seeing no worthwhile use for the disputed South China Sea territories, President Duterte said he is now open to a joint oil exploration with China which will practically give away part of the area notwithstanding the international arbitral court ruling that the China-occupied maritime territories are Philippine-owned.
Speaking before government workers who received awards for exemplary performance at Malacanang Monday, Duterte explained: “What will I do with Scarborough Shoal, swim there every day? For what? Send my soldiers there to die?… If I send the Marines there, they will be wiped out.”
At the same time, Duterte came to China’s defense against claims that Beijing is largely to blame for the drug problem in the Philippines. The Duterte administration adopted the position that it is a mistake to connect the drug traffickers with “their countries of origin.”
“It is not fair to blame all of China and her people for the drug problem perpetuated by some of its nationals,” the statement said. “Not all Chinese are related to drugs.”
On the plan to give China a part in the economic exploitation of the disputed territories, Duterte said he would put aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling and “would not impose anything on China.”
He nonetheless vowed to “bring this up someday” with Chinese leaders. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar earlier in the day elaborated on it by saying while Duterte has been “revitalizing” relations with China, he was not “deviating from the four corners of the ruling.”
“The Philippine government reaffirms its respect for and strict adherence to this milestone ruling and will be guided by its parameters when tackling the issue of maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Andanar said.
But the fact that Duterte was setting aside the ruling of the PCA was disturbing enough to some. Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, for example, said in a statement: “The foregoing declarations are most sadly being made after we had taken a firm rules-based position to defend what is ours – and won.”
“Now, we seem to be on a track to relinquish those gains that have been made to benefit our people,” Del Rosario added.
As for the administration’s defense of China on the drug problem in the Philippines, Malacanang claimed that most of the Chinese engaged in the drug trade are members of crime syndicates and are not government officials.
According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, almost two-thirds of the 77 foreign nationals arrested for meth-related drug offenses between January 2015 and mid-August 2016 were Chinese. And almost all the clandestine meth laboratories uncovered by police in the Philippines over the past 20 years have been run by, or at least involved, Chinese nationals, drug enforcement officials and prosecutors say.
Philippine drug enforcement officials say that China has done little over the years to staunch the flow of meth and its precursors. In the December 16 report, the national police spokesman reported that he was not aware of “any high-profile drug cooperation between China and the Philippines” since the visit by Duterte to Beijing in October.
Philippine drug control officials say that Chinese nationals play a pivotal role in the drug trade in their country.
The statement from the Palace communications office noted that an agreement to collaborate on drug control was signed by Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in October and some 50 Philippine police officers had attended a drug control and law enforcement training program in Yunnan province in October.
More than 2,000 people have been killed in police raids since Duterte took office on June 30, and a further 3,000 deaths are currently under investigation by the police.
Even as he wages a brutal drug crackdown at home, Duterte is warming up to China, the main source of the methamphetamine consumed in his country. At the same time, he is distancing himself from the United States, the main source of foreign aid to the Philippines in fighting drugs.