Duterte: Philippines grateful to China, but West Philippine Sea 'cannot be bargained'

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 29 2021 12:46 AM | Updated as of May 03 2021 04:46 AM

Philippine Coast Guard personnel are seen onboard rubber boats as they sail near Chinese vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea in this handout photo distributed by the PCG on April 15 and taken according to the source either on April 13 or 14, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard/Reuters/file

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that while the Philippines holds a "debt of gratitude" for Chinese aid, its territorial waters "cannot be bargained."

Duterte noted that China donated 1 million COVID-19 shots to the Philippines. However, he said he would not order Philippine ships away from the West Philippine Sea.

“I’m stating it for the record, we do not want war with China. China is a good friend. Mayroon tayong utang na loob na marami, pati iyong bakuna natin,” he said in a pre-recorded speech.

“But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise... Sana they will understand, but I have the interest also of my country to protect.”

(We have a huge debt of gratitude, even for our vaccine. But there are things that are not really subject to a compromise. I hope they will understand.)

The President continued, “Sabihin ko na (I will say) there are some things in life that cannot be bargained, and this is one of them.”

The Philippine Coast Guard and the fisheries bureau started maritime exercises on Saturday inside the country's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), following an announcement of a boosting of its presence to counter the "threatening" presence of Chinese boats.

Responding to the exercises, China's foreign ministry on Monday said the Philippines should "stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes."

“Kung paalisin tayo ng ganoon lang, umalis kayo—‘wag kayong umalis. Bakit kayo alis d’yan? Atin ‘yan,” said Duterte.

(If they turn us away like that, tell us to leave—I will tell our ship don't leave. Why will you leave? That is ours.)

The Philippines has taken a tough tone in recent weeks over the lingering presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in its EEZ, reviving tensions that had eased due to Duterte's embrace of Beijing.

Beijing disregards a 2016 ruling of an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, which junked its "historical" claims to almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.

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“For China, tapos na iyon na may desisyon na, ayaw nilang sumunod. Tayo naman, we have the decision, but we are at a loss of how to get back physically the West Philippine Sea,” said Duterte.

(For China, that decision is finished. For our part, we have the decision, but we are at a loss of how to get back physically the West Philippine Sea.)

Duterte said the administration of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III retreated from a standoff against China at Scarborough Shoal, which an analyst said is the "only piece left" in Beijing's move to militarize the waterway.

“Ang naabutan ko, talo na tayo. Ang China, kumasa na talaga na kanila talaga,” said Duterte.

The US failed to send its ships during the standoff, he added.

But whether or not the US helps the Philippines this time, Duterte told Philippine ships in the waterway, “Wag kayong umalis (don't leave), period.”

– With a report from Reuters