MANILA — President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday night challenged three Western countries to help the Philippines make a stand against China and claim its territories in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte posed this challenge to the United States, Great Britain, and France after clearly being frustrated by criticism that he has failed to confront China over its aggression in the contested waters.
He has also been criticized for seemingly lacking empathy for the 22 fishermen whose boat sunk after allegedly being rammed and abandoned by a Chinese vessel at the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in 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 (This is my challenge, my challenge to America, Great Britain, France is that we assemble in Palawan and go straight to Spratly. Let’s claim it if we can),” Duterte said in his speech during the 122nd founding anniversary of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) at Malacañang Park.
Duterte, however, said he did not want to endanger the lives of millions of Filipinos by going to war against China.
“Ah kung maubos tayo lahat… Sabihin nila (If we all perish…They’ll say), ‘Duterte is not protecting the interest of the Filipino.’ You’re a g****** s***. You want me to put the lives of 110 million Filipinos by going into trouble?” Duterte said.
“My God, I am not willing to sacrifice any soldier or policeman to die na walang kalaban-laban (without standing a chance),” he added.
He shrugged off critics who claimed going to war against China was too far-fetched, warning that conflict was bound to arise if the Philippines continued to push.
“Bakit giyera lang ano? Talagang giyera ‘yan (Why do I assume there will be war? It’s because it will really be a war),” Duterte said.
“Anything that is — that would force anybody to act contrary to his will is always offensive. As a matter of fact sa (in) law, that is what’s called compelling anybody is a crime. Why will I go there and prohibit them na (when) the only way to stop them is talagang gamitan mo ng ngipin ‘yan (really showing some teeth)?”
Duterte dismissed claims he was afraid, but pointed out that the three Western countries should also be able to face China if they were sincere in helping.
“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 (It’s not that I’m scared. If they want, I said, they can invite others because we really don’t stand a chance–they have lots of weapons),” Duterte said.
Amid calls for him to ban China from fishing within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone, Duterte said he could not enforce it even if he wants to, noting that even a powerful country like the US does not want to confront China.
“Kung i-prohibit ko (If I prohibit them), how do I enforce my desire? Takot nga ang America. Ayaw nga mag-confront, tapos ako pa ang ipusta nila (America is even afraid. They don’t want to confront, then they want me to take the risk)?” Duterte said.
Duterte, meanwhile, reiterated that he has no way of stopping China from fishing within the EEZ because the latter has insisted its claims on the area despite the arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines.
“We cannot drive them away because they have insisted na kanila (that is theirs). Tayo, idinemanda natin ang China panahon ni Aquino, which was right. Nanalo tayo, sabi ng arbitral court, ‘sa Pilipinas ‘yan’ (We filed a case against China during the time of Aquino, which was right. We won and the arbitral court ruled ‘that belongs to the Philippines’),” Duterte said.
Despite the arbitral ruling, Duterte said that the Philippines was not given sovereignty and that “no country in the world has sovereignty over their EEZ.
“Hindi ibinigay sa atin ‘yung (We were not given) sovereignty. Our sovereignty is only 12 miles. Ang (The) economic zone, wala tayong (we don’t have) sovereignty. No country in the world has sovereignty sa kanyang (within its) economic zone — exclusive. It is not a question of sovereignty,” Duterte said.
According to Duterte, another reason why the Philippines could not stop China from fishing within the Philippine EEZ is because of their previous agreement to allow both Chinese and Filipinos to fish in the area.
“Kasi nagtanong sila (Because they asked), ‘Will you allow the Chinese to fish? Sabi ko (I said) ‘Of course, ‘yan ang pinag-usapan namin noon (that was what we agreed upon),” Duterte said.
“‘Yan ang pinag-usapan namin noon, kaya tayo naguusap eh (That’s what we agreed on before, that’s why we are talking). And that was we were allowed to fish again. It was a mutual agreement,” he added.
Moreover, Duterte said that several infrastructure agreements between the Philippines and China have also been signed after the two countries decided to delay talks on the arbitral ruling.
“Ang usapan natin, huwag na muna ngayon pagusapan, mag-kaibigan lang muna tayo. Pagbigyan ko kayo ng armas, ano pang gusto ninyo(The deal is, let’s not talk about this issue now, let’s be friends first. I’ll give you arms, what else do you want)?” Duterte said.
“Ang mga projects ngayon. Kita mo naman (The projects now, as you can see). You from Luzon. Kita mo ‘yung highway ngayon? Kita mo ‘yung mga… Tapos gusto mo lang na pilitin na umalis sila doon (Do you see the highways now? Then you just want to force them to leave the area)?” he added.
Duterte also raised the possibility that the Filipino fishing vessel, which sank off Recto Bank, may not have been rammed but “sideswiped” by the Chinese vessel last June 9.
“Halos kami ngayon are agreed na-sideswipe. Hindi talaga yung binunggo. Kung binunggo, nasa ilalim na ‘yun (Almost all of us are somewhat convinced that it was sideswiped. That the boat was not really rammed. If it was rammed, it might have gone underneath),” Duterte said.
He pointed out that critics who insist that the Chinese vessel “intentionally” rammed the Filipino fishing boat should await the results of the investigation.
“Na-sideswipe. ‘Yun ang tawag diyan. Ngayon sabihin mo sinadya (That’s what it’s called. Now, if you say it was done intentionally) then let us have an investigation,” Duterte said.
Duterte said he still has cards up his sleeves–findings from the Bureau of Customs and Philippine Navy–but withholding them until Chinese authorities release their own report on the incident.
“Tinatago ko ‘yung aking baraha. Meron nang Customs, meron nang Navy. Tinatago ko for the final report kasi gusto ko tingnan yung ano sa China (I’m saving my cards. There are findings from Customs, from Navy. I’m withholding them for the final report because I want to see the results of China first),” Duterte said.
The President further said that whether or not the Philippine government was contented with China’s explanation that the Chinese fishermen were “afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats”, it was something they could not do anything about.
“Whether that is a good answer or not, that is their answer. Wala tayong magawa (We cannot do anything about it). You cannot force another answer kung ayaw niya (if China doesn’t want to),” Duterte said.
At present, Chinese authorities have yet to release the results of their investigation on the maritime incident. Azer Parrocha / PNA – northboundasia.com