MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated that he did not relinquish the West Philippine Sea despite his administration’s warm ties with the Chinese government.
Duterte, who ends his 6-year term in June, said no Philippine president had the right to give up the waterway, parts of which are claimed by Beijing. But he maintained the country could not go to war against China.
“As a matter of principle, hindi talaga namin iiwanan ‘yung claim namin because I, o sila Duterte noon, sila Ramos, they have no right at all, pati kami, to relinquish the claim na, 'O sige, huwag na lang para walang gulo,'" he said on state-run program "The Chatroom" that aired Sunday.
(We won't abandon our claims because presidents, they have no right at all to relinquish claims and decide, "Oh we won't assert it so there would not be any war.")
"Hindi namin puwedeng gawin ‘yan eh,” he added.
(We cannot do that.)
The country’s lack of military might, he said, compelled his administration to adopt a friendly stance with China, despite its incursions in Philippine waters.
Shortly after Duterte took office, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in July 2016 handed down a ruling that invalidated China's sweeping claim over most of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
Since 2016, Manila has filed over 230 diplomatic protests against Chinese incursions in the area.
“Pag-move out mo pa lang diyan sa Palawan, ubos na tayo... Huwag po ninyong ipasubo ang Pilipinas, hindi talaga kaya. Kagaya ng --- kagaya ng sa atin mga Ukraine-Russia, eh pulpugin lang tayo. So kaibigan lang tayo," Duterte said.
(If we move out to Palawan, our forces will be depleted. Do not jeopardize the Philippines, we cannot do it. We will be crushed like that in Ukraine-Russia, so we will just be friends.)
"There is always a time for everything. Lahat ng pangyayari itong sa mundong ito, may panahon. Hintayin lang ninyo, darating rin ‘yan,” he added.
(Everything that happens in this world has a right time. Just wait for it, it will come.)
Duterte also touted gains from the country's ties with China, particularly the Beijing-funded Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila and COVID-19 vaccine donations for the Philippines.
“Kita mo ‘yung Binondo Bridge? Sabi walang nagawa, maski ‘yan na lang eh. Maganda na rin ‘yan,” Duterte said.
(You see the Binondo Bridge? They say nothing was accomplished. That alone is already beautiful.)
“Hindi naman masama na magpasalamat ka sa magandang asal na ginawa, papakita,” he added.
(It's not wrong to say thanks if something good was done.)
In 2016, the Chinese government pledged some $24 billion in investment to the Philippines. Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal pointed out less than $1 billion of the promised projects was realized as of 2021
Duterte's latest remarks came after his virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, where Malacañang said the leaders emphasized the need to maintain peace and security in the resource-rich waterway.
This can be done by "exercising restraint, dissipating tensions and working on a mutually agreeable framework for functional cooperation,” the Palace said.
“Both leaders acknowledged that even while disputes existed, both sides remained committed to broaden the space for positive engagements which reflected the dynamic and multidimensional relations of the Philippines and China,” acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar said.
Duterte earlier said the country "does not have any quarrel" with China over Spratlys, and that he was open for a dialogue regarding the matter.
— With a report from Maricar Cinco, Kyodo News