President Duterte declared Friday the Philippines would not pull out its ships from the West Philippine Sea and continue its maritime patrols there, in his strongest statement yet on the country’s territorial dispute with China, which has more than 200 vessels in the area.
“We have a stand here and I want to state it here and now again. We will not move an inch backward,” Duterte said in the taped speech aired Friday.
“I have two ships there. Let me tell China now, as I said before, I am not ready to withdraw, I don’t want a quarrel, I don’t want trouble, I respect your position, and you respect mine,” the President said.
He also said it is not wrong to admit that the Philippines is “inferior” in terms of “might and power.”
“Now, I really won’t withdraw. Even if you kill me, I will be here.
This is when the friendship ends,” said Duterte, who has been criticized for appeasing China to get loans and investments, and who has thanked Beijing profusely for donating COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
But the President on Friday reiterated that the Philippines maintains its claim of sovereignty over the islands and the waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"We owe a lot to China, including our lives. But I hope they will understand, but I also have the interest of my country. It might not really be through armed might but a claim of sovereignty, which I cannot impose yet," he added.
Duterte is hoping that China would understand the country’s position or there would be problems.
In his speech, the President expressed doubts if the United Nations could really help the Philippines in defending its legal claims in the West Philippine Sea.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines a case against China’s claims to virtually all of the South China Sea.
"When was the United Nations of any use? They're all papers. They're clueless up there," he said.
China has rejected the international court's ruling.
In an online forum, China’s Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the relationship between Beijing and Manila “deepened” under President Duterte, saying that disputes in the South China Sea have been “properly handled.”
Huang did not mention the many diplomatic protests that the Philippines has filed against China for the swarming of more than 200 ships in the West Philippine Sea.
On Wednesday, the National Task Force for WPS (NTF-WPS) said maritime exercises in WPS will continue upon Duterte’s directive.
BRP Malapascua (MRRV 4003), MCS 3001, and 3008 were deployed at the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan, while BRP Sindangan (MRRV 4407) and MCS 3005 are within the area of Bajo de Masinloc, the NTF-WPS said.
The Philippine vessels, the NTF-WPS said, are being complemented by the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) four high speed tactical watercraft, three police gunboats, and police fast boats to patrol the municipal waters and portions of the country’s EEZ in the disputed waters.
The Philippines’ heightened presence in WPS came after Chinese incursions into the country’s EEZ.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who attended the meeting with Duterte at Malacañan Palace, said the Philippine ships are conducting maritime patrols within Kalayaan Island Group and Mischief Reef.
Duterte said he has no plan to order the withdrawal of Philippine ships from WPS, even if Manila’s friendship with Beijing would be at stake.
Manila, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has filed a series of diplomatic protests against Beijing's incursions into WPS.
On Thursday, the DFA filed another diplomatic protest against the presence of at least 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the waters of Kalayaan, Palawan.
Duterte on Friday said he would not allow the United States to be involved in any Philippine conflict.
“Under my watch, there will never be a time that I will allow my soldiers to go somewhere to fight and join the Americans,” he said in a pre-recorded public address delivered Thursday night but televised on Friday noon.
He also slammed the Americans for their role in brokering an agreement in 2012 between the Philippines and China to withdraw their ships from the Scarborough Shoal. China did not honor the agreement and seized the area.
In his address Thursday night, Duterte also invited former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Defense minister under President Marcos, to join in Cabinet discussions about the West Philippine Sea.
“I will listen to him because I’m impressed with his understanding of this problem at the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said.
Enrile has yet to respond to Duterte’s invitation.
The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, said its capability to defend the country's key sea lines of communications (SLOCs) such as Mindoro, Balabac, Sibutu, and Basilan Straits against conventional threats will get a boost with the arrival next year of fast-attack interdictor craft missile (FAIC-M) boats.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo made this remark as he confirmed that three of a total of eight fast-attack interdictor craft missile (FAIC-M) boats the Navy has acquired are scheduled to be delivered in the first quarter of 2022.
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