MANILA - The Philippines will "agree to disagree" with China on its continued rejection of Manila's arbitration victory over the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said Tuesday.
The landmark ruling declaring China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea as having no legal basis, is, according to the Chinese embassy in Manila, "illegal and invalid," after the Philippines touted it as "non-negotiable" during the 4th anniversary of the verdict over the weekend.
"We will agree to disagree and we will proceed with our friendly relations and yung mga bagay na pwede isulong, isusulong. Yung mga hindi pa pwedeng maresolba ngayon, isasantabi," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a virtual press briefing.
(We will push for the things we can push for, while those we can't resolve will be set aside.)
"We will proceed with our bilateral relations because the arbitral award is not the sum total of our relations with China."
In a statement last Sunday marking the 4th anniversary of the issuance of the ruling, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said, "Compliance in good faith with the award would be consistent with the obligations of the Philippines and China under international law, including UNCLOS to which both parties are signatories."
China, insisting on dealing with the maritime disputes bilaterally, did not participate in the arbitration proceedings, and continues to disregard the award that other countries have also hailed.
The Philippines initiated the case in 2013 after China's aggressive activities in the Scarborough Shoal.
The United States said it would treat as illegal Beijing's pursuit of resources in the South China Sea as it ramped up support for Southeast Asian nations.
China said the US' claim was "unjustified' and a bid to sabotage regional peace.
"The great powers, as they escalate their rivalry, will woo us to their side. We will be sure that we will advance our national interest. Meanwhile, we want all parties involved to abide by the rule of law, particularly with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Roque said.
"Ang importante po ngayon, atupagin natin yung pagbubuo at pagpapatupad ng Code of Conduct nang maiwasan ang tension sa lugar na 'yan."
(What's important is we move for the creation and implementation of the Code of Conduct to avoid tensions there.)
The Duterte administration opted to shelve the award to establish friendlier relations with China for economic benefits. The Philippine leader had raised the award a few times before Chinese President Xi Jinping, only to be told of Beijing's consistent rejection of it.
The two countries established the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism as their platform to discuss issues regarding the South China Sea.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario expressed belief that President Rodrigo Duterte "still has the opportunity to fulfill his promise to the Filipino people to raise the award: this time, not before the Chinese President, but before the world."
Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitration team, noted that according to surveys, more than 9 out of 10 Filipinos believe the great importance of regaining control of the artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea.
Eight out of 10 Filipinos believe as well that "we should take the issues" to the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and other international organizations, he added.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims in the South China Sea.