MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday dared Western countries to "seize" the Spratly Islands, but reminded them of the dire consequences of such a decision, especially on Filipino lives.
The President’s challenge came as he acknowledged that Manila alone cannot stop Beijing from asserting its claim over the West Philippine Sea.
“Ito ang hamon ko, ang hamon ko sa America, Britain, France, mag-assemble tayo dito sa Palawan tapos diretso na tayo doon sa Spratly. Agawin na natin kung maagaw natin,” Duterte said in a speech during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group at Malacañang.
“Kung maubos tayo lahat . . . Sabihin nila, ‘Duterte is not protecting the interest of the (Filipino) . . . ‘You’re a g****** s***.’ You want me to put the lives of 110 million Filipino by going into trouble? Gusto mo ipusta mo ‘yang . . ?”
The Spratlys are a disputed group of islands and islets in the West Philippine Sea, part of which is claimed by the Philippines known locally as the Kalayaan group of islands.
Other claimants are Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, which asserts that it owns most of the Spratlys.
Duterte said that, if the Philippines insisted on claiming the disputed waters, it needs allies.
“Kaya sabi ko, mabuti’t . . . Para maintindihan ninyo ’yung galit ko. Hindi ako sa hindi natatakot. Kung gusto nila, sabi ko nga, mag-imbita sila kay hindi naman talaga natin kaya ’yang . . . p*** karami ng armas diyan ngayon. Sabay-sabay kami,” the President said.
“Mine is just to defend the internal integrity of my country.”
The Spratlys, one of many disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, is often discussed in relation to other contested areas in the region, such as the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough).
Duterte acknowledged that, should Manila choose to ban the Chinese from fishing in its territory, the question is whether the Philippines can follow through on such an order.
“Kung i-prohibit ko, how do I enforce? Takot nga ang Amerika. Ayaw nga mag-confront. Tapos ako pa ang ipusta nila? Gusto talaga nila mapasubo ako,” he said.
Duterte said Manila cannot drive Chinese fishermen away in the West Philippine Sea since Beijing also claims the area.
“We cannot drive them away, because they have insisted na kanila,” he said.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea and has refused to recognize a United Nations backed-arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims.