Expert: Duterte's statements on South China Sea inconsistent

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 11) — A maritime law expert said President Rodrigo Duterte's statements on the disputed islands in the South China Sea are inconsistent with the administration's previous stands.

"We were actually the ones who advocated a freeze on any new occupation…So if we were to now occupy new reefs, then we would be turning back on our own position, which we have been holding on for so many decades now," said University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Jay Batongbacal.

The fact that the President is making hasty comments, Batongbacal added, seems to show he lacks a deeper understanding of the issue.

"Either he was not informed at all, or he had a wrong impression as to what is going on, in the Kalayaan island group," he said.

Batongbacal says the president's comments raises concern ahead of one-on-one talks between China and the Philippines in May.

Duterte: Despite sea row, PH 'at best level' of ties with China  

Inconsistent statements

Before leaving for the Middle East on Monday, Duterte once again addressed the highly-contested islands in the South China Sea.

"I ordered the occupation of the ten or nine islands that are just near our shoals because there is heightening of geopolitical issues and eventually maybe a violent low-intensity war over here," Duterte said.

However, the president also tried to appease China while sounding defiant, saying no offensive weapons will be used upon asserting sovereignty over the islands.

Duterte to China: Relax, no guns, only structures in PH islands  

In his speech in Palawan on April 6, Duterte said he plans to visit Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys on Independence Day to raise the Philippine flag.

The President also claimed he had ordered the Armed Forces to "occupy" the nine islands in the Kalayaan group of islands, build infrastructure and place the Philippine flag in the area.

Duterte plans to visit Pag-asa Island, rename Benham Rise  

However, the Defense department was quick to clarify that Duterte merely wanted repairs of facilities on the nine islets and features on the Kalayaan Island Group, and that almost all of these have been under Philippine control since the early 70s.

The Department of Defense said the repairs are limited to soldiers' barracks, water systems, and even shelters for fishermen.

In 2002, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, led by the Philippines, pushed for the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which aims to make claimant countries exercise self-restraint such as occupying uninhabited islands int he contested territories.