Amid the renewed tension with China, President Duterte said he never promised to take back the West Philippine Sea when he ran during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The President claimed that he avoided discussing the territorial dispute during the past campaign, recognizing that such serious matter needed diplomatic discussions.
“I never never in my campaign as president promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea. I did not promise I would pressure China,” Duterte said during a televised address May 3.
“I never promised about the China and the Philippines in my campaign because that was a very serious matter. It need to have diplomatic talkaties,” he added.
In a presidential debate prior to his electoral victory in 2016, Duterte offered to go to Spratlys Island via jet ski and plant the Philippine flag to assert the country’s sovereignty. He later clarified his statement was just a hyperbole to stress his point that he would not give up the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Tension in the region has been renewed after the Philippines protested the presence of over 200 Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef last March. The ships have dwindled at the reef but others merely dispersed to other parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Several Chinese ships were still spotted staying at Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal and Ayungin Shoal based on the sovereignty patrols by the national government in the West Philippine Sea.
Manila has also protested the “incessant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence” of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels in Philippine exclusive economic zone.