Duterte on South China Sea: We won't give up anything

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2016 02:41 PM | Updated as of Oct 16 2016 05:46 PM

MANILA -- (UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday guaranteed that the Philippines will not relinquish its claims to the South China Sea, even as Manila seeks closer ties with Beijing, which has maintained its blockade and island-building activities in the resource-rich waterway.

"We will not give up anything there. Those are our entitlements. Every country in the world is given their own fish pond. You cannot give that up, you can only negotiate to prevent war," Duterte said in interview with Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera. 

"Not even the President of this country can give up the claim. You are not allowed to do that. That is one sure way to impeachment," he added. 

Last July, 12 days after Duterte took office, the international tribunal handed the Philippines a resounding victory, ruling that China's claims to most of the sea had no legal basis and that its artificial island-building was illegal.

The Asian giant, however, has refused to honor the ruling. 

Duterte, who is set to visit China on October 18 to 21, said Manila cannot "go into a rage and fight" Beijing, leaving it with no other option but to pursue diplomatic negotiations. 
 
"What do you think will happen to my country if I choose to go to war? I fight alone? Or I'll call upon other countries to help me. Who would die for my country except us? We could only talk. That's why they invited me for talks, so I will go," he said. 

The President also maintained that he cannot use the arbitration court's verdict to pressure China. 

"It will be arrogant of me to go there and say, 'I'm going there to fight for this and that,'" he said. 

"You have to go there with a little bit of courtesy. But when we are already in front of each other, then we say, this is it, we do not go." 

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose last Friday said Duterte may discuss the South China Sea row with his counterpart, Xi Jinping. The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements to boost ties between the Philippines and China. 

The President is also expected to meet with the Filipino community in China, and deliver the keynote address at the Trade and Investment Forum, which will be attended by Filipino and Chinese investors.

Duterte's state visit to China will be the first meeting between the heads of states of the two countries in five years, after ties were affected when the Aquino administration decided to file a case against China before an arbitral tribunal.

During the election campaign, Duterte said he was willing to "set aside" the South China Sea dispute in return for China building a railway through the impoverished southern Philippine region of Mindanao. He also said it was not in the nation's interest to insist on its claim over Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone that China seized in 2012.

The acid-tongued leader also launched a sustained verbal assault on the United States, scrapping the joint patrols as well as a series of annual war games.

Before leaving for Beijing, Duterte is first scheduled to fly to Brunei on Sunday for a state visit where he will hold bilateral talks with Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.

In a speech on Sunday, Duterte reiterated that there will be no bargaining of Philippine territories with China.

"We do not bargain anything there. We continue to insist that it is ours," Duterte said. "I will be very careful not to bargain for after all, I could not give what is not mine." 

Duterte, however, said there will be "no hard impositions" when it comes to the decision of the Hague tribunal on the South China Sea.