By Arjay L. Balinbin

MALACAÑANG on Wednesday appealed to critics of the government’s handling of the country’s maritime dispute with China to “be united on this issue.”

“We appeal to the critics, we have to be united on this issue. Please do not claim to have a monopoly of upholding the national interest. Philippine President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte has been consistent that he will die for Philippine territory. But, meanwhile, he will not sacrifice even a single life for an issue that can be resolved on the basis of friendly relations,” Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a televised press briefing in Palawan.

The spokesman reiterated that Mr. Duterte “considers the West Philippine Sea and all the islands that [the country is] currently occupying and laying claim to as part of the province of Palawan — with the exception of Scarborough which forms part of the Province of Zambales.”

“The President has said that he will not surrender any inch, even a single inch of Philippine territory to any foreigner. I think the basis of the Philippine claim is very clear, it is by virtue of both discovery of…territory and effective occupation,” Mr. Roque said.

“The President’s position is that the ruling of the UN (United Nations) Tribunal on the Law of the Sea has finally decided: one, that China cannot claim…any of the waters of the West Philippine Sea on the basis of historic title or on the basis of the nine-dash lines; two, that Scarborough and the area where China has built artificial islands are part and parcel of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The President is of the opinion that this is authoritative evidence of the customary norm of international law applicable and is certainly authority that China cannot make claims on the basis of historic waters.”

Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio emphasized recently that the West Philippine Sea is no longer “disputed” as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague had already ruled in 2016 in favor of the Philippines.

For his part, Mr. Roque said: “We have unresolved controversy as far as land territory is concerned. This is because the UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea can only resolve issues involving the sea pursuant to the Law of the Sea. So the issue of land territory remains disputed, that is why we still have to refer to it as the ‘disputed islands of the West Philippine Sea’ because that was not the subject of any ruling on the part of the UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”

“These conflicting claims to land territory will have to be resolved, obviously through negotiation and diplomatic relations. That is why the President has, for the time being, pursued friendly relations with China in contrast to the antagonistic position taken by his predecessors.”

“On matters which are controverted, including land territory and still disputed maritime territories under the definition in international law, the Philippines will proceed on the basis of bilateral relations with China.”