South China Sea code of conduct could be signed by next year

NATIONAL Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. on Wednesday said discussions on the South China Sea Code of Conduct is continuing and could be finalized by next year. In a virtual briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Esperon said he is “positive” that the ongoing talks with China and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be concluded in 2021. “We still hope by 2021 we could sign an agreement on the code of conduct,” he said. China and ASEAN economies agreed to complete by 2022 the code that is intended to ease strains from maritime disputes. In the meantime, Mr. Esperon said joint military explorations and exercises in the West Philippine Sea have been suspended to avoid further tensions. “We have put them on hold…. For now we think that getting into military exercises in the area don’t contribute to a peaceful West Philippine Sea and South China Sea,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez 

No rush to US military pact cancellation, says Roque

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte might extend the suspension of his order to cancel the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States by another six months, his spokesperson said on Wednesday. “Perhaps the President will invoke the second six-month time to finally abrogate the VFA,” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines. Mr. Duterte ordered the termination of the military exercises pact with the US in February, but backtracked in June, citing heightened political tensions and the coronavirus pandemic. The suspension of the notification to abrogate will expire in December. “There is no immediate rush for the President to decide because the notification we sent to the Americans gives them at least one year leeway before it’s abrogated,” Mr. Roque said. — Gillian M. Cortez 

On Duterte’s SALN: Not concealing, just following Ombudsman rules

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte is not hiding his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) but merely following rules of the Ombudsman, Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said on Wednesday. “He is just respecting the recent guidelines issued by the Ombudsman because after all the Ombudsman is a constitutional body tasked with promoting accountability amongst public officers,” Mr. Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines. Mr. Duterte has yet to make public his 2019 and 2019 SALNs, the annual filing required from all elected officials and all civil service workers. Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires restricted public access to SALNs with the release of new guidelines in September. — Gillian M. Cortez