Serge Osmeña sides with Duterte's policy on China: 'Let West PH Sea solve itself'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 14) — Former Senator Serge Osmeña sided with President Rodrigo Duterte's stance towards China in the issue of the West Philippine Sea, saying Manila is powerless against the military might of Beijing.

"I think he (Duterte) is correct in making friends with China," Osmeña told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday. "Let's keep up good relations with China and let's allow the West Philippine Sea (issue) solve itself."

Osmeña, a close friend of Duterte who is aiming for another term in the Senate in the May 2019 polls, said warmer ties with China is "good enough" for the Philippines, considering that it is a major trading partner of the country.

Even with a majority of Filipinos dissatisfied with the present government's actions on the West Philippine Sea, Duterte continues his pivot towards China, making him Chinese President Xi Jinping's "most important friend."

Duterte has nixed engaging China through combat, even saying in June that the military and police would oust him if he sent them to the West Philippine Sea on a "suicide" mission.

"We cannot afford a war at this time because it will result in a massacre," Duterte said. "I am not prepared to lose my soldiers and policeman for simple adventurism."

Despite earning criticism for his apparently softer stance on China, Duterte said in his third State of the Nation Address that the Philippines would continue to defend its claims in the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) insists that it has filed up to 100 diplomatic protests, but the veracity of this is being questioned.

For Osmeña, it is better for the Philippines to stay the course on China.

"It might take us 50 years to solve it. So let's not sacrifice all that business we can do with China," he said.

Joint exploration

However, Osmeña would favor going to war against China if it blocks the right of passage of vessels through the disputed waters and if joint oil explorations with the Eastern giant turns out to be detrimental to the Philippines.

Osmeña said he is supportive of the Duterte administration's move to initiate a joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea with China, but stressed that the Philippines' share from the venture must be at least 60 to 70 percent.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said last week that two oil exploration deals, which may include one between the Philippine National Oil Company and Chinese state-owned oil producer, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, are up for Duterte's signature.

Duterte said China has offered a 60-40 joint oil exploration deal, which, the DFA said, would require Beijing and Manila to "set aside" territorial claims.

No to EJK, federalism

Osmeña also supports Duterte's campaign against corruption and criminality, but is against extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

"I fully support his anti-graft, anti-corruption campaign. I fully support also his, well, I partially support his campaign against drugs except for the EJK. I'm against EJKs," he said.

He also expressed doubts on the administration's plan to shift to federal form of government, saying "they don't know what they're talking about."

Osmeña ranked 11-12 in a commissioned survey by the Social Weather Stations in October. He said this is "not comforting" for him as the race is still too tight.

Even if he has figured in the "Magic 12," Osmeña's bid to return to the Senate after losing his re-election in 2016 faces a hurdle from the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) campaign finance office, which has lodged a disqualification case against him for failing to file statements of campaign expenses (SOCEs) in 2010 and 2016.

Section 14 of Republic Act No. 7166 bars winning candidates from assuming their duties unless they have filed their SOCEs. Additionally, if they fail to file SOCEs for the second time, they would be perpetually barred from public office.

In Osmeña's defense, the Comelec allowed him to file late in 2010, but not in 2016.

He is confident that the Comelec would allow him to run in the May 2019 elections.

"I'm sure that COMELEC will absolve me because they have always allowed late filing," Osmeña said.