MANILA – Ahead of his visit to Beijing next week, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday admitted that the Philippines cannot match China’s might when it comes to fighting for the Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
In a speech in Lamitan City, Basilan, Duterte said he will not dwell too much on the Scarborough issue when he visits China next week.
“Lalo na magpunta ako ng China. May duda ako na okay tayo sa kanila. Huwag na muna natin pakialaman yang Scarborough kasi hindi natin kaya. Magalit man tayo hangin lang. Hindi natin kaya. So mag-usap muna lang tayo,” he said.
(I’m going to China. I believe that we are okay with them. Let’s just not dwell on the Scarborough issue because we cannot fight them. It will be nothing because we cannot match their power. Let’s just talk.)
Duterte said he will ask China to allow Filipino fishermen to enter the shoal, which has been declared by the tribunal as a traditional fishing ground not only of Filipinos but of other nations as well.
“Sabihin ko lang ipabalik mo lang 'yung mga kapatid kong Pilipino mangisda at tsaka mag-usap tayo,” he said.
(I will just tell them to allow our Filipino fishermen brothers to let them fish in the shoal and that we should also talk.)
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China has been blocking Scarborough since 2012, and Duterte is positive that the renewal of ties between the two countries will make Beijing allow Filipino fishermen back in to the resource-rich shoal.
The blockade was one of the reasons which prompted Manila, then under President Benigno Aquino III, to hail China to an international tribunal. In July, the tribunal ruled against Beijing, declaring the latter’s economic claim to most of the sea invalid.
But since Duterte assumed power over three months ago, he has since been keeping a less hostile stance towards China, in an attempt to boost trade ties with the world’s second largest economy.
He has also been ramping up his rhetoric towards against the US, China’s strategic rival, over criticisms to his war on drugs.
Duterte has been giving conflicting stance on the South China Sea issue.
During the campaign, he said he would ride a jetski and plant a Philippine flag in one of the artificial islands built by China in the Spratlys.
But when the Hague-based arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Manila, Duterte said he would not flaunt Manila’s legal victory with China.
But in several other speeches, he said he will not go “beyond the four corners” of the tribunal’s ruling.
Chian has refused to recognize the arbitration proceedings and still insists on its already-invalidated nine-dash line claim to the sea.