MANILA - Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte was being sarcastic but had legal basis when he invoked the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States amid the tension in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
"It's both sarcastic and with legal basis. The Philippine president is basically saying if you really want an armed confrontation with China, let's remove all this palabok, let's go to it. If you want an armed confrontation, you have a legal basis, do it, I'll support you. But meanwhile, since you're not willing to do it, let me conduct my foreign relations in the manner that I think will benefit the national interest," Roque said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.
Roque believes that Duterte has legal basis in making the statement citing the incident in 2014 when the Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal.
He said China sent at least three warships to the area, forcibly removing coast guard and navy personnel as well as excluding Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.
China, he said, also built three artificial islands in what the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal has ruled as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
"A shot doesn't have to be fired. What is prohibited is the threat or the use of force. And in any case, there were actually armed forces utilized when they forcibly evicted us in 2014," he said.
On Wednesday, Duterte called on America to send their 7th Fleet in front of China.
The Philippines and US signed a pact in 1951, which binds both countries to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.
However, Roque clarified that although there is a mutual defense treaty, it cannot be invoked for the purposes of the ongoing territorial dispute with China.
"So for all intent and purposes the MDT is useless in so far as the West Philippine Sea is concerned," he said.