MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte asserted Philippines' right to the West Philippine Sea while vowing to use peaceful avenues, during a bilateral meeting where China reportedly warned of a possible war if Manila pursued its territorial claims, Malacañang said Monday.
"We are very clear that we are not giving up our claim of sovereignty and sovereign rights over certain islands in the South China Sea, at the same time, these matters are pursued in the context of maintaining peace and prosperity in the region," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
Duterte last week held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
The Filipino leader revealed Friday China warned his administration of war if Manila insisted on its ownership of areas in the disputed South China Sea.
He said the Chinese side issued the warning after he expressed Philippines' intent to drill oil in the resource-rich waters.
“I said, Mr. Xi Jinping, I will insist that it is ours and we will drill oil,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.
“Sinabi ko talaga harap-harapan, that is ours and we intend to drill oil there. My view is I can drill the oil. Ang sagot sa akin, ‘Well we are friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain warm relationship, but if you force the issue we will go to war.’ Ano pa bang sabihin ko?”
Abella however said the Philippines and China are "committed to peaceful resolutions to socio-economic, and political challenges."
He added that the national interest remained the "first and last priority" of Duterte.
Duterte has pursued warmer ties with Beijing despite the sea dispute, aiming to boost economic ties with one of the world's largest economies.
China in turn offered Philippines billions of dollars in aid and loans, as well as support for Duterte's war on drugs.
The Asian giant however consistently refused to abide by the ruling of a Hague-based arbitral tribunal, which invalidated its weeping nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.
China instead drafted a framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea, together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The binding code of conduct, which shall replace the non-binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, will lay down the rules for all claimant states.