Manila mayor vows to take on China as Philippines president

  • "Isko Moreno" says won't allow Chinese bullying
  • Will review contracts in Duterte infrastructure programme
  • Vows no impunity if evidence of drug war atrocities
  • Open to ICC probe but stands by judicial system

MANILA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The Manila mayor vying for the Philippines presidency on Monday promised zero tolerance of Chinese maritime aggression and said he would not hesitate to push Beijing to abide by international law if he triumphs in this year's election.

Francisco Domagoso, 47, a former actor better known by his stage name "Isko Moreno", told Reuters he will give a guarantee to Philippine fishermen they can operate in the South China Sea "unharmed, unhampered, and without disruption".

He said reports of harassment, blockades and incursions by Chinese maritime militia in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone will become "things of the past" with him in charge.

"Not on my watch," Domagoso said in an interview.

China needed to accept a 2016 arbitration award that made clear the Philippines entitlements, he said, including where it can fish and exploit offshore oil and gas. China rejects the ruling and claims historical jurisdiction of almost the entire South China Sea.

His stance contrasts sharply to that of incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, who has been reluctant to confront Beijing, favouring engagement and strong Chinese business ties.

"Can we throw them away militarily on our own? The answer is no," he said of China.

"But legally and technically they should recognise the award," said Domagoso, who was elected Manila mayor in 2019.

He said he would invest to strengthen the Philippines' naval power and marine assets to protect its territory.

"I will make sure no more islands on top of what they are controlling now (will be lost)," he added, shortly after unveiling his 10-point economic agenda.

ANSWER FOR CRIMES

He also said he would review Duterte's "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure contracts, including those funded by China, to ensure terms were beneficial to the Philippines.

Domagoso is trailing in opinion polls behind Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Vice President Leni Robredo, but is tied with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.

He also promised no cover-ups if there was evidence of atrocities in Duterte's notorious war on drugs, a crackdown during which thousands of people have been killed by police.

"I assure you, those who committed wrongdoings will be held accountable. From the bottom to the top, poor, middle class, rich, they will be made to answer," he said, stressing that he personally had no knowledge of abuses while he was mayor.

He said he was open to the International Criminal Court carrying out an investigation into allegations of systematic abuses in the drugs war, although he insisted the country's "justice system is intact".

The ICC has temporarily suspended the probe at the Philippines' request, to allow it to conduct its own investigation.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty

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