The government will continue to patrol the West Philippine Sea to assert “what is ours” even as it pursues a peaceful and rules-based resolution to the maritime dispute, President Duterte said Tuesday.
The President asserted that the government would stick to its “principled” position on the West Philippine Sea, that includes protecting the nation’s interests, following the recent incursions of Chinese vessels into local waters.
“Our principled position and stand on the West Philippine Sea remains. I have said it before and I will say it again, our agencies have been directed to do what they must and should to protect and defend our nation’s interest,” Duterte said in a statement read by his spokesman Harry Roque Tuesday, May 18.
“Our vessels will continue to patrol relevant areas to firmly assert what is ours. The Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be where they need to be,” he added.
The President earlier decided he would not pull out the country’s ships from the West Philippine Sea after authorities protested the lingering stay of Chinese ships in the local waters. Duterte insisted that the country’s vessels would “not move an inch backward” from the contested waters.
But he later clarified that the deployment of these ships does not necessarily mean the country was preparing to go to war with China. Duterte said the country would “not start a war because we cannot afford it.” The government earlier deployed ships to conduct sovereignty patrols in the West Philippine Sea after hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted scattered in parts of the West Philippines Sea.
In the same statement, the President assured the nation that the government would “not waver” in its position on the West Philippine Sea. But he stressed the need to pursue a peaceful and rules-based resolution to the sea dispute with China.
“We must be willing to do what we can as responsible members of the international community to resolve disputes peacefully,” he said.
“Diplomacy therefore, will play an ever important part. It has fully utilized the bilateral consultation mechanisms (BCM) and other diplomatic venues to engage China,” he added.
He assigned the Department of Foreign Affairs as lead agency “in advancing our interest, harnessing time honored principles of international law.” “All stakeholders have professed fealty to these fundamental principles. It’s time for all of us to walk our talk,” he said.
President Duterte earlier recognized the country owed a huge of debt of gratitude to “good friend” China for various aid, including donated coronavirus vaccines, but ruled out forging a compromise on the West Philippine Sea.