MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said joint exploration with China in the South China Sea can be likened to co-ownership of the disputed area with the Asian giant.
Duterte has been open to the idea of the Philippines jointly exploring South China Sea with China, a complete departure from the stance adopted by his predecessor Benigno Aquino III.
The Philippines and China have been open to a possible joint exploration, even as Beijing continues to assert its claims to the resource-rich waters.
“Sabi nila, o sige, joint exploration na tayo. Kita mo. Eh kung inasar ko noon, pinagpu-p***** i** ko sila, walang mangyari,” Duterte said in a speech in Marawi City.
“Ngayon offer nila joint exploration ‘di parang co-ownership. Parang dalawa tayong may-ari niyan. Eh ‘di mas maganda ‘yan kaysa away.”
Stressing that the Philippines cannot go to war with China, Duterte recalled how Chinese President Xi Jinping warned during a meeting with him of a possible armed confrontation with the Philippines if Manila presses its claims to the sea.
“Tapos sabi ng Chinese, si Xi Jinping, pag-usapan na lang natin. Sabi ko, ‘No kasi amin ‘yan,’” the President said.
“Sabi niya, alam mo kasi baka magkagulo. ‘Yung pag gulo, ‘yan ang ibig sabihin niyan, giyera ‘yan. So sabi ko, ‘Okay. Pwede ba natin pag-usapan balang araw, at least sa panahon ko?’”
Former Solicitor Florin Hilbay, a Duterte critic, blasted the President’s latest pronouncements on the issue.
“Congress has been moving heaven & earth (hell as well, actually) to find & invent grounds to impeach a Chief Justice,” Hilbay said, referring to the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
“Here's a clear example of culpable violation of the Constitution & betrayal of public trust. The West Phil Sea is exclusively ours. He's giving it away.”
Since assuming power, Duterte has sought to downplay Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing in pursuit of better economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea where $5 trillion in trade goods pass annually. The area is also believed to contain oil and gas reserves.