President Rodrigo Duterte told Chinese officials the Philippine government had nothing to do with a complaint filed with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the Asian giant’s buildup in the South China Sea, a presidential spokesman said Thursday.
This came as Philippine officials announced that China had agreed to a 1 billion peso ($19 million) military assistance package for Manila in an effort to boost bilateral cooperation with the Duterte administration.
Duterte conveyed the assurance to Song Tao, the minister of the International Department of the Chinese communist party’s central committee, who visited the president during in his southern hometown of Davao on Wednesday.
Duterte told Song that his government “had no participation” in the case recently filed by two former Philippine officials against Chinese leader Xi Jinping before the ICC, according to a statement released by the presidential palace in Manila. He noted that the Philippines was “a democratic country, and therefore, we cannot stop people from just filing cases.”
Duterte said he was pleased by minister Song’s visit, adding it would strengthen ties that for years had been soured by territorial disputes over the South China Sea.
Both men “discussed matters of mutual interest, especially on the subject of the South China Sea/ West Philippine Sea,” according to the statement. The West Philippine Sea is the official Filipino name for the South China Sea.
Former Philippine foreign minister Albert del Rosario and ex-ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed the complaint before The Hague-based ICC. In it, they accused Xi of implementing a system to control the strategic sea region that endangered thousands of fishermen in the process.
The complaint included an outline of how Xi and other officials in Beijing had allegedly committed “crimes against humanity” by restricting access to the South China Sea. Morales and del Rosario argued that this undermined food security of coastal states, which depend on the South China Sea.
Duterte sought to downplay the complaint, saying the Philippines had recently left the ICC, which had received complaints against him related to thousands of deaths tied to his drug war.
China, meanwhile, is not an ICC member.
To underscore the Philippine government’s commitment to China, Duterte noted the “vibrant trade relations” between the two countries and underscored Beijing’s assistance in his nation’s infrastructure development program.
“If there will be a need of assistance in improving people’s lives, China is willing to help,” Song replied, according to the statement.
Song said officials were looking forward to welcoming Duterte to China during his visit there next month.
Duterte’s assurance came as the defense department announced it had secured a deal that would see more Chinese aid to Philippine forces.
Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna said that he and Maj. Gen. Ci Guowei, chief of office for International Military Cooperation of the Chinese defense ministry, had signed a deal in January calling for China to provide assistance to the Philippine military.
Some of the assistance he requested included a deployable bridge, water desalination and water purifying equipment, and ground radar penetrating equipment, Luna said.
“After the signing, I requested that the 1 billion pesos be in the form of a deployable bridge. I said our problem in the Philippines is when there’s a typhoon, many of our bridges are destroyed,” Luna said.
He made the announcement Wednesday during a handover ceremony of engineering equipment from the Chinese government.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines contributed to this report.