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Duterte to meet with ex-presidents to tackle China dispute

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte would meet with the country’s former top leaders to seek their advice on the sea dispute with China, according to the presidential palace.

The President would rather not convene his national security and foreign policy advisers because it has “resolved nothing,” his spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr.  told an online news briefing on Thursday.

Mr. Duterte thinks it is better to hold informal consultations instead of starting a meeting with the National Security Council, he said.

Former Senator Rodolfo G. Biazon earlier said the President should start the council to address diverging views of government agencies on the country’s sea dispute with China.

Mr. Biazon, a former Armed Forces chief of staff, said the lack of clarity from the National Government could weaken the country’s claims in the South China Sea.

Contradicting views of government officials might confuse the country’s allies “in our pursuit of our interest in the West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to parts of the waterway within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Mr. Duterte on Monday barred his Cabinet from talking in public about the country’s sea dispute with China, which some of his ministers had rebuked for its actions in the disputed waterway.

He said only his spokesman could talk about the issue publicly.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. this month minced no words in telling the Chinese to get out of Philippine waters in the South China Sea, cussing at its neighbor for failing to reciprocate its goodwill.

The presidential palace later distanced itself from Mr. Locsin. Mr. Roque said Mr. Duterte is against the use of profanities in the field of diplomacy.

Mr. Locsin later apologized to his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, after his expletive-laden tweet. Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana had also told Chinese ships in the disputed sea to leave.

Mr. Roque said only he and Mr. Locsin could speak on the issue. 

He said a Philippine task force on border patrols had also been barred from commenting on the issue.

A United Nations arbitration court in 2016 rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea. The Philippines under President Benigno S.C. Aquino III filed the lawsuit that critics said Mr. Duterte had failed to pursue.

Mr. Locsin on May 13 ordered his agency to file another diplomatic protest against China for the continued presence of almost 300 ships in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. —  Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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