MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will not raise the ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal on the South China Sea in its bilateral talks with China, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Wednesday.
The Philippines' top diplomat clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte is not setting aside the award issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague, Netherlands.
"China has disassociated itself from the arbitral ruling and the president has been quite clear that he will not be raising the arbitral ruling. He's not setting it aside but he won't be raising it until an appropriate time during his administration," Manalo said in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source.
This does not mean that the Philippines will not be discussing issues of concern in its upcoming dialogue with China, Manalo said.
On July 2016, the arbitral tribunal ruled that Beijing's historic nine-dash line claim over the disputed South China Sea does not have legal basis.
The arbitral tribunal also concluded that China violated its commitment under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea by building artificial islands within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Manalo, however, noted that the ruling of the arbitral tribunal is already part of international law.
"The issue now is how to address the problems which, for example, the arbitral ruling sought to address. But you see the arbitral ruling did not discuss, did not pronounce on the disputes and they did not pronounce on some other issues," the secretary said.
The upcoming bilateral talks between the Philippines and China next month might even cover issues outside of the arbitral award.
"I would even say that the talks would be much broader than the coverage of the arbitral ruling," Manalo said.
"We have many things to look forward to in this mechanism and the most important thing is that it could hopefully develop more trust and confidence when we dialogue with China and that could create the atmosphere to try and achieve some possible breakthroughs," the Foreign Affairs secretary added.
The exact details of the bilateral talks are yet to be finalized. Manalo confirmed that the first session of the dialogue will be held in May in China.
China earlier invited officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs to start discussions on a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea.
Manalo said that this mechanism is an important step forward as it will focus on issues in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.
"That's not the only mechanism we have with China since President Duterte took over. We have also reestablished our ongoing political consultation mechanism which really looks at our entire relationship with China but naturally we have to discuss issues of concern there," Manalo said.