VICE-PRESIDENT Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo on Thursday vowed not to pursue oil exploration deals with China if she becomes president until it recognizes a 2016 United Nations-backed arbitral ruling that invalidated its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

The Philippines would limit deals with its neighbor to trade and investment, she told an online forum on Thursday.

Ms. Robredo cited the need for an inclusive and independent foreign policy “as opposed to one that favors certain countries.” “We will be open to working with everyone so long as it will be in the best interests of the Filipino people.”

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, whose six-year term ends next year, led a foreign policy pivot toward China and away from the Philippines’ western allies.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso, who is also running for president, on Wednesday said he would consider joint oil explorations with China. Profits from any oil found should be used to lower electricity prices and boost the Philippines’ sea assets, he told an online forum.

Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., another presidential contender, “appears one of the few candidates to agree with Duterte’s policy of engagement with Beijing, potentially offering the most policy continuity out of the announced candidates,” according to Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research. 

Last month, the son of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos said Mr. Duterte’s stance on the South China Sea dispute is “the right way to go.”

Fitch Solutions noted in its report earlier this week that boxing champion and Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, another presidential bet, would probably seek closer ties with the US. It expects Ms. Robredo to “take a tougher stance on the Philippines’ dispute with China.”

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said the Philippines under him would boost ties with foreign military powers to enforce the landmark arbitral ruling that favored the Southeast Asian nation in the sea dispute with China.

“We can’t settle without becoming pushovers,” he told a separate online forum in mixed English and Filipino. He added that more powerful countries are willing to help the Philippines keep the balance of power in the disputed sea. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Nicole Alyssa O. Tan

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