The Philippine Star : 'We can't go to war with China': Marcos echoes Duterte on West Philippine Sea

By Patricia Lourdes Viray | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The incoming Marcos administration's policy on the West Philippine Sea appears to be a continuation of its predecessor.

Echoing outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday said going to war with China is "the last thing we need right now."

"We talk to China consistently with a firm voice… We cannot go to war… so we have to continue to discuss with them the conflicting claims that we have with China and that China has with other members of the ASEAN," Marcos said in an interview with select local media.

He added that the ASEAN would be a critical part of the discussion.

For the past years, ASEAN member states and China have been negotiating on a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, part of which is a West Philippine Sea. The Philippines serves as country coordinator for the talks with Beijing.

Marcos said that he would uphold the July 2016 arbitral ruling of an UNCLOS-backed tribunal, which invalidated Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. China, however, refuses to acknowledge this landmark award.

"We have a very important ruling in our favour and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right," he said.

Describing Philippine sovereignty as sacred and inviolable, Marcos said his administration "will not compromise it in any way."

"We will not allow a single square, and maybe make it even more smaller, single square millimeter of our maritime coastal and up to 200 kilometers rights to be trampled upon," he said.

While Duterte has been insisting that invoking the Philippines' sovereignty and sovereign rights on the West Philippine Sea would entail going to war with China, this has already been rejected by academic experts.

In a joint statement issued April 2021, a group of college and university professors rejected Duterte's argument that asserting sovereignty constitutes a declaration of war.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, part of the Philippine delegation at the UNCLOS-backed arbitration, earlier enumerated ways on how to assert Manila's arbitral win without going to war.

These include withdrawing authorization for Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine exclusive economic zone, retracting Duterte's statement that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea, joining freedom of navigation exercises, and conducting joint patrols with other ASEAN coastal states. — with report from Kristine Joy Patag