The Philippines has taken “a little bit stronger” stance in dealing with China over the West Philippine Sea but will never start a war, President Duterte said Monday.
In a televised address Monday, May 17, the President told China that any deployment of Filipino naval ships to the territory does not mean that war is imminent, insisting he does not want any trouble with China over the territorial conflict.
“Maybe the cline is becoming clear that we are more — not really forceful but a little bit stronger now in our dealings with them,” Duterte said.
“But I would like to assure, I said to China, I assure you guys that nothing of a sort of placing their arms against you. Even if we put our entire Navy ships there, we will not start a war because we cannot afford it,” he said.
The President, who has considered China a good friend and benefactor, said he wanted to be “frank” with everyone about his stance against going to war over the territorial conflict. “And China understood us,” he added.
In the same meeting, the President listened to the views of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on the West Philippine Sea issues. Enrile advised the President to befriend China instead of antagonizing the Asian giant. The former senator said the country could “lose more” if it irritates China.
Duterte thanked Enrile for his advice, including his suggestion to ignore critics of his West Philippine Sea stance.
“At least narinig na ninyo, sabi ko, one of the best minds of our generation — sa bunganga niya kung what is really the score between this whole thing of China and the Philippines, and how we are navigating peacefully to avoid trouble with China,” he said.
“It is not to our advantage, as the senator has said, that we go out and quarrel with China. Ako, wala rin akong nakita. So the senator is one with me. I am happy that, I said, one of the best minds of ating generation has agreed with me,” he added.
Duterte previously affirmed his stance to pursue dialogue and closer economic ties with China instead of using force to address the territorial dispute. Duterte’s alleged soft stance towards China however has drawn criticisms from some groups that were dismayed he was supposedly not doing enough to assert the country’s claims over the territory.
The government has deployed several ships to patrol the West Philippine Sea following the recent incursions of Chinese vessels into local waters. Manila earlier filed diplomatic protests against the unlawful presence of the Chinese ships in local waters and demanded their pullout. Some ships have left Julian Felipe Reef but others reportedly scattered to other parts of the West Philippine Sea.