MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for the United States to enforce its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines amid the maritime tension in the disputed West Philippine Sea was just another "sarcasm," Malacañang said Thursday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte's remark was the chief executive's way of "putting into absurdity" criticism from the opposition.
"Still the same. Because he knows that you cannot invoke that treaty without any armed assault or attack against any of the parties in that treaty," Panelo said when asked whether the President's remarks were sarcasm.
Duterte on early Wednesday said Washington should enforce its 1951 defense pact with Manila against Beijing, which binds both countries to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.
"I'm calling now America. I'm invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their 7th Fleet in front of China. I'm asking them now. I will join them," he said in an interview over Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's TV program.
Panelo added that Duterte's remarks are also a challenge to his critics to help the chief executive in defending the West Philippine Sea in the event of an armed attack.
"He kept on saying that by way of putting into absurdity the criticism by the critics and detractors – and challenging them that in the event of any armed attack and the treaty will be operational, then these critics and detractors which the President has named should go with him in defending the West Philippine Sea," he said.
The President has courted criticism for his soft stance towards China and his recent pronouncement that Chinese fishermen can venture into Manila’s waters.
Last month, tensions between the Philippines and China rose after a Beijing vessel rammed an anchored Filipino fishing boat near Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The 22 Filipino fishermen were then abandoned at sea and later rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the area.
Duterte had previously admitted that the Philippines cannot drive Chinese vessels away from its waters, explaining that both countries claim the area for its own.