MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he was "inutile" and "cannot do anything" against Beijing's pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Manila.
The Philippines should "just cool off" and pursue "diplomatic endeavors" to counter China's sweeping claims to the area "unless we are prepared to go to war," Duterte said in his fifth State of the Nation Address.
"China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it so it’s simple as that. They are in possession of the property… So what can we do? We have to go to war, and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other President can, but I cannot," Duterte said.
"Inutil ako d’yan and I’m willing to admit it. Talagang inutil ako d’yan, walang magawa," he added..
(I'm inutile there and I’m willing to admit it. I'm really inutile there, I can't do anything.)
Beijing refuses to acknowledge an international tribunal's 2016 ruling that invalidated its supposed "historic rights" to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea.
Duterte has largely set aside the ruling in search of trade and investment with Asia's largest economy, sparking US concern that Manila, its long-time ally and former colony, would change sides in a strategic boost to Beijing.
Duterte, who is on his last 2 years as President, said in his SONA that while he had “nothing” against the US and China, he was not in favor of foreign military bases in the Philippines.
“Maglagay-lagay ka ng (if you put up a) base at this time, this will ensure if war breaks out — because there will be atomic arsenals brought in — this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race,” he said.
“We work without fail to protect our rights in the South China Sea, neither beholden, not a pawn to anyone,” said Duterte.
“We broaden the boundaries of Philippine diplomacy. We build productive ties with everyone willing to engage us on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and we refined our relationship with our most important partners, placing the country in a far better position to advance our interests in an evolving regional order and emerging global problems.”
Reacting to the President's statement, former Supreme Court senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines does not have to go to war against China to assert its rights in the West Philippine Sea.
"Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are asserting their sovereign rights to their maritime zones against China’s claims. These countries do not go to war against China, and neither does China go to war against these countries. A country does not need to go to war to assert its sovereign rights. There are lawful and peaceful means of asserting sovereign rights," Carpio, a staunch advocate of Manila’s rights in the West Philippine Sea, said in a statement.
"War is not even an option because the UN Charter outlaws resort to war to settle territorial or maritime disputes. Moreover, the Philippine Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy, which means the Philippines cannot go to war to enforce the arbitral ruling," he added.
Carpio also said China does not possess the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and other countries like the United States, France and Australia regularly sail in the EEZ, which proves that China is not in possession of said territory.
"Naval powers like the US, UK, France, Australia, Japan, and Canada regularly sail in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, proving that China is not in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. The President should not say that China is in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea because factually China is not in possession," he explained.
Duterte in February ordered the end of a key military pact with Washington after it cancelled the visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who led his war on drugs as former national police chief.
The President in June suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which is important to Washington's moves to counter Beijing's rising regional power.
US relations with China have markedly deteriorated in recent months, especially over trade disputes, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
The US and Australia this month rejected Beijing's claims in the South China Sea, explicitly backing the territorial claims of Southeast Asian countries.
- With a report from Agence France-Presse