Plan to regain Scarborough in 2016 scuttled after Duterte decided on diplomatic approach
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte decided to treat the Philippines' victory in the arbitral tribunal ruling nullifying China's claims over disputed areas in the South China Sea in 2016 "very softly".
In a speech at the Asian Institute of Management Friday, Lorenzana revealed that when the ruling was released on July 2016, all Cabinet members were in the Malacanang for a meeting where Duterte made the decision.
In effect, Lorenzana scuttled a plan to send Philippine soldiers to Scarborough to reclaim the area once Duterte's decision on the ruling came out. "I talked to the Philippine Navy and asked them can we, can we field a small force, because I was thinking of Scarborough Shoal, and maybe if we can drive away the Chinese there if we can (retake) Scarborough Shoal," he said.
"When the arbitral ruling was about to be announced, we were all in Malaca?ang. All the Cabinet members were there. When it finally came out, we had this meeting with the President and it was decided that, he called it, let's do it as a soft landing," he said.
"He (Duterte) said we should not be overly celebrating because we might offend China," Lorenzana said.
"So the President decided to deal with the ruling very softly with Chinese and so in the first 6 months of his administration, going to China and the bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping," said Lorenzana.
Lorenzana said a week before the ruling was released, he received a call from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates telling him the ruling will come out soon and it will favor the Philippines.
Gates told Lorenzana to exercise restraint.
"He said don’t do anything in the South China Sea that will provoke some trouble there. And I was thinking to myself what does he mean by that. Do we have the capability to go to trouble there?" Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana added former Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. even received criticism for his sober and very serious announcement.
"He appeared to be not the victorious guy in that announcement. He was very somber and very serious. People, I think, thought that we should be celebrating and laughing and shouting that we won the arbitral ruling. But that's not the case," he said.
Lorenzana defended the decision of the president, saying his actions benefited the country.
"We were able to export again our farm products like bananas and pineapples which was stopped by Chinese (government) when the arbitral ruling was filed to the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration). Chinese tourists stopped ( arriving) also- and now they continue to come," he explained.
Lorenzana said everytime he talked to Duterte about the arbitration ruling, the president always told him he is just waiting for the "right timing".
"We will wait for that (Duterte's action), on what he will do (on the ruling)," he said.
Despite the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling in July 2016, favoring the Philippine petition to invalidate China's historic and sovereign claim in almost the entire South China Sea, the Duterte administration has decided to put it at the back burner.
China, which has been refusing to respect the PCA ruling, has continued with its activities in its reclaimed areas in the disputed waters. Ella Dionisio/DMS