Malacañan Palace on Thursday clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte would not drop the 2016 arbitration victory of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute to allow a joint oil and gas exploration with China.

“He did not say that Philippines will drop the claim…the arbitral ruling is still subject to peaceful talks,” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters.

Panelo made the clarification after Duterte was quoted in a television interview that “exclusive economic zone is part of the arbitral ruling which we will ignore to come up with an economic activity.”

“As we have always said, the relationship between the two countries is not measured by the conflict in the West Philippine Sea alone,” Panelo said.

Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo called the president’s statement “profoundly disappointing and extremely irresponsible.”

“The President’s own Secretary of Foreign Affairs has stated that there is no need to set aside the 2016 ruling in order for joint development between China and the Philippines to move forward. Entering into any agreement should not come at the expense of upholding our rights to the West Philippine Sea,” she said in a statement.

“Our own Constitution already grants the State ample authority to enter into agreements with foreign entities for exploration and development of oil and gas resources, provided that these shall lead to ‘real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.’ Why then, was this reckless pronouncement made?” she added. (