Duterte on South China Sea dispute: Why will soldiers fight a war they would lose?

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 06 2018 06:08 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has again asserted he would not want to go to war with China over unresolved disputes in the South China Sea, saying soldiers may not be willing to fight a war they would surely lose. 

Duterte, criticized for his friendly stance towards the Chinese, insisted that the Philippines is not capable of confronting China's military might and that the Philippine military is aware of this.

“Madali sabihin ‘yan. Kung ako ang military, ako ang general, utusan mo ako na pumunta ka doon, magpakamatay ka, samahan mo ‘yung sundalo mo, sabihin ko, ‘f*** y**. Why do I have to do that?’” Duterte said in a press briefing upon arriving from South Korea Tuesday night. 

(That’s easy to say. If I were a military general and you told me to go there and commit suicide with my soldiers, I will say, ‘f*** y**. Why do I have to do that?)

“Sinong g***** susunod sa iyo? This is not an… This is an armed forces of service, not suicide.”

(What fool will follow your orders?’ This is an armed forces of service, not suicide.)

Since assuming office, Duterte has shifted the Philippines’ policy towards China, adopting instead a friendly stance in pursuit of more vibrant ties with Asia’s largest economy.

The President has also chosen to set aside Manila's 2016 victory in an international arbitral court, which invalidated China's sweeping claim to the waters. Manila has since engaged in regular dialogue with Beijing. 

Duterte said it would be useless and dangerous to antagonize China because of its military might.

“We cannot afford a war at this time because it will result in a massacre. I am not prepared to lose my soldiers and policemen for a simple adventurism,” he said.

“Can I rely on anybody’s help? If all of my soldiers will die there and all of the policemen to assist them, nadisgrasya ang Pilipinas, sino ang managot (the Philippines gets into trouble, who will answer for it)? The people will execute me right at the Luneta,” he said.

“If I do that, either I am inviting trouble within my country or the military and police will oust me.”

Amid China's military buildup in the disputed seas, Duterte put the blame on the United States, a long-standing ally, for failing to stop Beijing’s island-building in the Spratlys.

“If this is historical claim and this is an arbitration award, now, who wins? Nobody. Can I rely now on America and drop the first bomb when we attack?” he said.

Duterte also downplayed China’s deployment of bombers in the Paracels, which is located in the northern portion of the South China Sea not being claimed by the Philippines.

He said there was no point protesting China’s deployment of bombers because it took place in an area outside the Philippines' claim. 

China has described its actions in the South China Sea as an exercise of its sovereignty over the waters.

Last week, officials said the Philippines has been taking "diplomatic actions" against China over incursions in the South China Sea. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also told lawmakers in a briefing that the Philippines has filed "maybe 50, 100" protests against China over its actions in the South China Sea over the past two years.