By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea is far-flung, is outside of the country's exclusive economic zone, and had "never" been in Philippine possession, said Malacañang.

"Iyong mga napakadaming fishing boats sa Julian Felipe, iyan po'y napakalayo sa atin... Sa katunayan, ni minsan hindi po natin na-possess 'yan. Napakalayo po n'yan doon sa mga islang ating na-possess," Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a Tuesday virtual presser. 

The Palace official added Vietnam also has a competing claim to the reef.

"Bakit Pilipinas, bakit si President Duterte ang tinatanong kung anong ginagawa niya d'yan? Bakit hindi tanungin ang mga Vietnamese dahil unang-una mas malapit sa kanila 'yan at pangalawa sila talaga ang nag-aagawan sa area na 'yan.”

"Bakit ang sisi ibinibigay kay President [Rodrigo] Duterte? Hindi niya maintindihan,” he added.

Roque furthered that his latest statement "doesn’t weaken anything" in the country’s claims to the contested waters.

"All we’re saying is we were never in possession of that area, and we're making a big thing out of the fact that that area naman was never under our possession," he said. 

"Pinalalaki po ‘yan ng ating mga kalaban talaga," Roque added.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte said the arbitral victory granted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, Netherlands to the Philippines is just a “piece of paper that can be thrown away.”

The chief executive also challenged Carpio to a debate regarding the issue in which the former magistrate accepted on the next day.

However, Duterte backed off from the debate he himself initiated as per his Cabinet’s advice and instead designated Roque on his behalf.