Duterte willing to back down on sea dispute with China


In exchange for Chinese aid for PH infrastructure

MANILA – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he is willing to ''shut up'' about the West Philippine Sea dispute if he becomes president, as long as China will offer to build vital transportation facilities and other infrastructure in the Philippines.

Speaking at a press conference in Palawan last Thursday, Duterte said he is open to having joint exploration between the Philippines and China in the disputed waters, an approach the administration of President Benigno Aquino III has long dismissed.

''If you want, joint exploration. Kung wala akong pera pang-equipment ko, just give me my part,'' Duterte said.

Duterte said, if China will ''build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol... build me a train [going to] Batangas, for the six years that I'll be president, I'll shut up."

Duterte's position on the matter, perhaps the biggest foreign policy controversy facing the presidential bets in the May 9 elections, contradicts the position taken by the Aquino administration.

The administration has been averse to holding joint exploration with China, saying the latter would want the Philippines to play by its rules.

"The joke then was it seemed like China was saying 'What is ours is ours and what is yours we share,'" Aquino said in an earlier interview with ANC.

"I think the discussions bogged down in terms of conflict resolution. Assuming there is a disagreement between the joint venture partners, whose laws apply?... Laws apply from sovereignty."

The Aquino administration is pursuing a multilateral approach in resolving the dispute, while China prefers a bilateral tack.

Recent attempts to make all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stand up against China's actions in the South China Sea have not been successful because some members have close ties with China.


Duterte, nonetheless, maintained his stance that the West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines.

He added he will have to disagree with the United Nations-backed tribunal, which is hearing the arbitration case filed by the Aquino administration, if it will issue a ruling unfavorable to the Philippines.

''Pareho kami ng China. They claim it, I am insisting it is ours, period. Hindi ako maniwala sabihin ng tribunal na: 'O Philippines, ganito…' No, no, no. To hell with you guys,'' he said.

''I will tell China, that is ours. You are building structures [in an area] that is ours. If the tribunal would favor us, good, but if not, I would disagree."

Duterte said it would also be futile to engage China in a shooting war since the Philippines cannot match the Asian giant's firepower. This position is something he and President Aquino both agree on.

''I will not go to war because we will not win it. It will be a massacre. I will not waste the lives of Filipino soldiers and policemen. Ano ako, gago? Patay lahat iyan,'' he said.

''I will not waste the lives of Filipinos. I will ask the Navy to bring me the nearest point [in South China Sea] that is tolerable to them and I will ride a jet ski. I'll carry a flag and when I reach Spratlys, I will erect the Filipino flag. I will tell them (Chinese), suntukan o barilan?"

Under the Aquino administration, the military has seen modest upgrades as it attempts to build a so-called ''minimum credible defense." However, this is still not enough to match China's military might.


The Hague-based tribunal is expected to release soon its decision on the case filed by the Philippines against China. The case filed by the Philippines seeks to invalidate China's vague ''nine-dash line'' claim to the South China Sea.

READ: PH: China's sea claim 'hopeless, indefensible'

The Philippines under President Aquino insists that it has the right to exclusively explore resources within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China has been accused of violating the Philippines' EEZ by building artificial islands in the contested Spratly Islands and harassing Filipino fishermen.

China has refused to participate in the proceedings and said it will not accept the court's ruling. Although the tribunal's decision will be binding on all parties involved, experts note that the court has no means of enforcing its ruling.

The basis of China's decision not to participate in the proceedings is its official declaration in 2006 where it stated that it does not accept settlement procedures provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) – the constitution for the seas.

"Back in 2006, the Chinese government exercised its right under Article 298 of UNCLOS, and issued a declaration that excludes compulsory arbitration. More than 30 other countries have also issued similar declarations," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in early March.

"Legally speaking, these declarations are an integral part of the UNCLOS, and must be respected by other parties. By not accepting the arbitration, the Chinese government is acting entirely in accordance with the law."

READ: China says PH arbitration 'tainted'