MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday reassured Filipinos that the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea (WPS) would not be compromised, even if China is the country’s “friend.”
“China, let it be known, is a good friend and we do not want trouble with them, especially war. But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise,” Duterte said in his pre-recorded public address.
Duterte gave the assurance, but insisted that he would maintain a non-combative stance to address the sea dispute with China.
He guaranteed that he would not “bargain” the Philippines’ sovereignty over WPS with its friendship with China.
“Sasabihin ko na (I will tell them that) there are some things in life which cannot be bargained and this is one of them,” he said. “Now, tignan natin kung ano ang gawin ng China (let’s see what will China do) despite our pleadings for peace and to settle it.”
Earlier Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque denied that the Duterte government is lacking in ability to address the Philippines’ ongoing row with China over the continued presence of the Chinese vessels in WPS.
The National Task Force (NTF) for WPS, in a separate statement, said the Philippine government continues to patrol WPS in the exercise of its sovereignty and sovereign rights under the Philippine Constitution and international law.
The NTF-WPS added that the government shall not waver in pursuing “peaceful, rules-based and proactive initiatives on environmental protection, safety of navigation, maritime and food security within our maritime domains.”
Past admin blamed over China’s sweeping WPS claims
Duterte blamed the administration of his predecessor, former president Benigno Aquino III, for its supposed inaction over China’s sweeping maritime claims in WPS.
Duterte chided the Aquino administration’s alleged negligence to act on China’s activities in the strategic waters.
“Kung bright kayo, bakit nawala ang West Philippine Sea sa atin? Panahon ninyo ‘yun eh. Panahon ninyo nung nandiyan kayo sa puwesto. Ngayong China na ang naghawak doon, ako na ang niluluslos ninyong gumawa ng paraan (If you are bright, why did we lose the West Philippine Sea? The dispute happened during your time. Now that China is controlling it, why are you forcing me to find a way to address the sea row)?” he said.
Duterte said the situation in WPS already gets worse even before he assumed the presidency in 2016.
“Ang naabutan ko talo na tayo, ang China kumasa na ng husto na kanila na talaga (When I assumed office, we already lost to China after they already gained control [over WPS),” he said. “‘Yun ang istorya diyan. Remember na pagdating ko sa opisina sa pagkapresidente, iyang [South] China Sea, nandoon na talaga sa China kasi umatras tayo (That’s the story there. Remember, when I became president, China is already there in South China Sea because we did not assert our claim).”
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won its petition filed against China before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration after the arbitration court invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over almost the entire sea.
The NTF-WPS reported the continued illegal presence of three Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels in Bajo de Masinloc, one CCG vessel in municipality of Kalayaan, and one CCG vessel in Ayungin Shoal.
The Department of Foreign Affairs already filed on April 14 two diplomatic protests against China amid the prolonged presence of its vessels in WPS. Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos / PNA – northboundasia.com