President Duterte is willing to sail to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid renewed tension with China, but admitted that such voyage will be futile.
Breaking his silence on the latest territorial spat with China, the President conceded that the Philippines was “not in possession of the sea”, and that it could retake the area only by force, an option he refuses to consider.
“Ako gusto ko tinanong ko nga si (Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana, puwede ba tayo pupunta tayo doon, papasok sa mga Spratlys Islands ng barko natin. Of course it should be coast guard. we dont send gray ships to, mga warship diyan para ipakita sa Pilipino na maski ilang balik natin door, wala talagang mangyari because we are not in possession of the sea. Sa kanila eh (I want to go. I asked Secretary Lorenzana if ew can go to Spratlys Islands using our boat. Of course, it should be coast guard — we don’t send gray ships, warships there — just to show to Filipinos that even if we keep returning to the area, nothing will happen because we are not in possession of the sea. It’s theirs),” Duterte said during a televised address Monday, April 20.
“I am ready, anak ng jueteng, if it’s a matter of looking for trouble and looking for violence, but at what cost would that be to the country,” he added.
Lorenzana, in the meeting with the President and other officials, assured the commander-in-chief that there was no barrier to the country’s ships visiting the West Philippine Sea. He noted that naval, coast guard and fisheries bureau vessels were regularly visiting the area, including Pag-asa Island.
Duterte, however, insisted that going to the territory and asserting jurisdiction could become “bloody.”
He maintained that WPS issues “remain a question forever, until such time that you know we can take it back.” And the only way the country could retake the area would be through the use of force, he added.
“Walang iba giyera lang (Nothing else but war). If we promote war against China and America, medyo siguro mamadalian pero at what cost to us. Ayan ang problema (it will be resolved easily but at what cost to us. That’s the problem),” he said.
“There is no way that we can get back the Philippine Sea without any bloodshed,” he said.
The President, however, ruled out going to war over the territorial dispute with China, adding the country was unlikely to win.
“You know the cost of war and if we go there really to find out and to assert jurisdiction, it will be bloody. It will result in a violence that we cannot maybe win,” he added.
Duterte said the United States was also unlikely to come to the country’s aid if the country itself initiates war over the disputed territory.
Under the mutual defense pact between the Philippines and the United States forged in 1951, a country will defend the other country in case it would be under external armed attack.
“Alam mo doon sa mutual defense treaty, I don’t know if I’m right, only if we are being attacked on our soldiers. It does not include a war that is initiated by us,” he said.
Tension in the region reignited after the Philippines protested the lingering stay of more than 200 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea since last month. Manila has asked Beijing to pull out the ships but China ignored the plea and claimed the fishing vessels were simply taking refuge from rough sea condition.
In his speech, the President took a swipe anew at the Aquino administration for supposedly losing control over Panatag Shoal during a standoff with China back in 2012.
He recalled that the country withdrew from the shoal to end the stalemate with China as part of the supposed United States intervention. China, however, did not leave the area, effectively gaining control of the shoal.
If the similar incident happens under his watch, Duterte said he would order the country’s ships not to leave the area. He would order the ships “to stay put” to assert the country’s ownership.
And if ever oil exploration begins in the resource-rich waters, Duterte also said he would remind China about the country’s claim to the area.