But if China drills oil, Duterte says he will 'act on it'
MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reiterated his personal view that the Philippines cannot do anything about China's claim on a disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.
But he said he would send military ships to "stake a claim" if China goes after oil and mineral resources in the said area.
In a televised public briefing, Duterte spoke on the topic for the first time since hundreds of Chinese ships were spotted in those waters late last month.
"The issue of the West Philippine Sea remains to be a question forever until such time that we can take it back," he said.
"Walang iba, giyera lang. If we promote a war between China and American, puwede siguro, madali 'yan. But at what cost to us? 'Yan ang problema. 'Yan talaga ang problema."
(We cannot do anything, just war. If we promote a war between China and American, we can, that's easy. But at what cost to us. That's the problem.)
Duterte also said the country cannot avoid bloodshed should it decide to take back its territory by force.
"We can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back ang tawag nilang Philippine Sea without any bloodshed. 'Yan talaga ang totoo," he said.
(We can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back what we call the West Philippine Sea without any bloodshed. That's the truth.)
Duterte likewise said it will not be easy to get the United States to fight against China, especially if it will be the Philippines who will start the war.
"We have always sided with America on so many issues, including this one. Pero kung sabihin mo that America will go to war because of the Philippine Sea tapos tayo ang mag-umpisa, ang ano doon, alam mo doon sa Mutual Defense Treaty, only if we are being attacked or assaulted. It does not include a war that is initiated by us," he said.
(We have always sided with America on so many issues, including this one. But if you say that America will go to war because of the Philippine Sea and we start the war, you know in the Mutual Defense Treaty, only if we are being attacked or assaulted. It does not include a war that is initiated by us.)
"I am ready. If just a matter of going there and looking for trouble, and maybe violence, OK sa akin (that's OK with me). But at what cost would that be to the country? Hindi tayo puwedeng pumunta doon at makipag-away (We cannot just go there and fight with them)," Duterte added.
According to Duterte, the problem in disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea started in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, and it worsened when the Philippines withdrew its ships there.
"Can the United Nations compel China, and do you think China will just give it freely because of the United Nations' demand?" Duterte said.
"Ang Pilipinas nag-retreat, ang China hindi nag-retreat. It was a notice to the world na noong hindi sila umalis, tayo ang umalis, ibig sabihin, amin ito kaya ka umalis."
(The Philippines retreated, but China did not. It was a notice to the world that when they stayed but the Philippines retreated, that means, this is ours that's why you left.)
Should a similar situation happen in his administration, Duterte said he will not back off.
"I don't want any quarrel. But a situation like that, if repeated, in my administration, I think there will going to be a . . . Talagang hindi ako aalis (I will not leave). Kung may barko ako diyan, 'yung Coast Guard andiyan, hindi rin ako mag-alis (Ii I have ships there, the Coast Guard is there, I will not leave). I will not (leave)," he said.
"Yung mga Coast Guard natin (Our Coast Guard), if they are driven away, I will tell them to stay put."
Duterte said the Philippines cannot do anything about the Chinese presence in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone at present, but he gave the assurance that he is ready to fight once China starts drilling for oil.
"I am addressing myself to the Chinese government. We want to remain friends. We want to share whatever it is. Sinabi ko naman sa inyo, sa Chinese government, I am not so much interested now in fishing. I don't think there's enough fish to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, sa ating oil, diyan na ako, then at that time, I will send my ships there. I will send my gray ships there to stake a claim," he said.
" 'Yan masiguro ninyo. 'Pag kinuha na 'yang oil, mga nickel diyan, precious stones, that would be the time because that is the time that we should act on it. Hindi ngayon na pahabol habulan lang diyan.
(I will assure you, once they get our oil, nickel, precious stones, that would be the time because that is the time that we should act on it. Not now when they are just chasing people away.)
" 'Pag mag-umpisa na silang mag-drill ng oil diyan, sabihin ko talaga sa China (When they start drilling oil there, I will really tell China), 'Is that part of our agreement? Because if that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill my oil there. If you own it, I own it. I do not want a quarrel, but that is what'."
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Duterte has not spoken about the issue because his aides have already done so.
Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, "the utterances of the alter egos are utterances of the President, unless the President renounces them," Roque said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed several protests against some hundreds of Chinese boats since March in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
The agency also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to press for the withdrawal of its vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.
Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte has criticized US foreign policy and sought to improve ties with Beijing, but China's maritime assertiveness has put him in a difficult spot at times.
The Philippine navy had planned to deploy 3 more ships in the South China Sea, within which is the Philippines' territorial waters.
"We have to understand that to say that one area is ours, we have to be there," military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea had been declared to have no legal basis by a UN-backed arbitration court.
– With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters