By Azer Parrocha | PNA
Despite his desire to remain friends with China, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he will send “gray ships” to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) should China start drilling for oil in the disputed territory.
In a pre-recorded public address, Duterte said he will state the Philippines’ territorial claim by sending navy ships in the disputed waters.
“I am addressing myself to the Chinese government, we want to remain friends, we want to share whatever it is. Sinabi ko naman sa inyo sa (I told you) Chinese government, I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish really to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China sea sa ating oil, diyan na ako (in our oil, that’s when I will act). Then by that time I will send my ships there,” he said.
Amid criticism over his supposed silence on Chinese vessels in the contested sea, Duterte said he would not allow China to dig for oil and other resources there.
“I will send my gray ships there to state a claim. ‘Yan masiguro ninyo. Pag kinuha na yung oil, kung anong mga nickel diyan, mga precious stones (That you can be sure of. If you start digging for oil, nickel there, precious stones). That would be the time because that is the time that we should act on it,” he added.
He said should China start drilling for oil, the Philippines would also start doing the same.
“Pag mag-umpisa na sila mag drill ng oil diyan, sabihin ko talaga sa China (If they start drilling for oil there, I’ll tell China), ‘Is that part of our agreement? Because if it is not part of our agreement, I’m going to also drill my oil there. If you own it, I own it,” he said.
Recalling a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017, Duterte said Xi himself vowed that China will not extract oil from the disputed sea.
“Noon ko pa sinabi ‘yan, yung pagkatapos nung nag-usap kami ni President Xi Jinping na sinabi ko na I will get my oil also. Sabi niya (I said that a long time ago, after I spoke with President Xi Jinping, I said I will get my oil also. He said), ‘Please don’t, we just leave it that way in the meantime’,” he added.
He said his Cabinet members were there to serve as “living witnesses” that he did something to assert the country’s claim over the WPS.
Stay put in the event of a standoff
Meanwhile, he also blamed the previous administration for allowing China to take control of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
He said that if a standoff between the Philippines and China were to happen again, he would make sure to order the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to “stay put” and not withdraw its vessels as his predecessor did.
“In a situation like that, if repeated in my administration, I think there is going to be a…talagang hindi ako aalis. Kung may barko ako diyan ngayon, yung coast guard ko nandiyan, hindi din ako mag-alis (I won’t leave. If there is a ship there now, the coast guard is there, I will not leave),” he said.
During the talk to the people, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana informed the President that the PCG ships conduct regular patrol to protect the Filipino fishermen in the WPS.
“Mr. President, wala naman balakid sa pagpunta natin doon, kahit nga yun Navy ships natin doon sa Pagasa Island, nagpapatrol din. (there is no hindrance in going there, even our Navy ships are also conducting patrol in the Pagasa Island). Our ships can regularly go there,” Lorenzana told Duterte
China seized control of the Scarborough Shoal in a controversial standoff wherein China blocked the access of Filipino fishermen in the area in 2012 prompting Manila to bring the case before the international arbitration.
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won the arbitration case it lodged against China after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over the contested waters. China refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling.
Duterte has opted to pursue a bilateral approach to address the maritime row with China since he assumed office in 2016.
‘Only by force’
He admitted that there is no way that the country can reclaim the WPS without any bloodshed.
“The issue of the West Philippine Sea remains to be a question forever until such time that you know, we can take it back. Ang akin ‘yan is walang iba, giyera lang (For me, the only way is by war),” he said.
Duterte warned that promoting a war against China would have serious consequences.
“If we promote a war against China and America, medyo siguro madalian, pero (we might be able to speed it up but) what at cost to us? ‘Yan talaga ang problema (That’s really the problem). But we can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back the Philippine Sea without any bloodshed,” he added.
If military officials no longer support his decisions concerning the WPS, Duterte said he is willing to step down.
“If I cannot have the cooperation of the Armed Forces, then there’s no point in working for this government,” he said.
Rumors that a group of retired and active military officers have withdrawn support for Duterte over his silence on Chinese vessels in the WPS have circulated over social media.
Defense Secretary Deflin Lorenzana dismissed them as “irresponsible propaganda” while Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana urged the public to spare his agency from partisan politics.
‘Tell me what to do’
Duterte dared retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio to provide solutions to the sea dispute that are not being undertaken by government.
“Sige, tell me what to do except yung papel papel ninyo (just papers). Just to create a well, whatever it is. Maraming daldal, wala ka naman talagang magawa (You talk too much but haven’t done anything),” he said.
He mocked Carpio for being a “dreamer”, insisting that it was impossible for China to accept the arbitral ruling that invalidates their nine-dash line claim over the contested waters.
“I’d ask you a question, if the United Nations would ask China to surrender because of the award given to us, ibibigay ba ng China ‘yan? Andun yung problema (China would give it to us? That’s the problem). Can the United Nations compel China? And do you think China will just give it freely because of the United Nations demand?” he said. “I’ll give you 100 years, you can never get something there miski isang basong tubig sa China ngayon (even one glass of water from China now).”
He reminded Carpio that China started the “construction occupation” during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“The construction occupation of WPS was completed by the singular act of China not retreating,” Duterte said, referring to the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012. (PNA)