Duterte's reminder: Let's keep our word on Recto Bank joint exploration with China

President Duterte has issued a reminder that the Philippines should keep its word about having a joint exploration with China at the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, saying not doing so may cause problems that no one wants.

President Rodrigo Duterte (RTVM Screenshot)

Duterte made the statement as he noted how the armed conflict in Eastern Europe would affect the Philippines's source of power, especially since the country does not even have enough oil "to serve a region."

In his pre-recorded public address on Monday evening, March 7, the President said although the Philippines does not have oil, it has gas. However, he warned that the situation may not end well.

"Ang meron tayo gas pero 'yan ang bantayan natin kasi (What we have is gas but we have to be careful because) there is a potential trouble there regarding how we would handle it," he said.

The Chief Executive, without being specific, hinted that a third player wants to "take over" China's role in the joint exploration at the Recto Bank and that China did not like this development.

"Pinaaalala sa akin, hindi ko na sabihin sino, from China, sabi niya, ''Di ba may usapan tayo joint development 'yang sa Recto Bank?' May bagong istorya na may papalit na, ganoon (I won't name names but someone from China reminded me that we have an agreement about a joint development at the Recto Bank but they heard that someone else was coming in)," Duterte said.

"Binulungan ako na, ''Wag ganon. Yung original contract natin, sundin natin.' (Somebody whispered to me, telling me to not do that and to honor our original contract)," he added.

The individual President Duterte was referring to supposedly also told him that they will "send soldiers" to Recto Bank "just in case" the Philippines does the same.

According to the President, this was the kind of situation he has been trying to avoid.

"Alam mo, 'yan ang iniiwasan ko noon pa, eh. Tapos magka-giyera tuloy tayo dito. Tapos, nandoon sa Ukraine, nandiyan ang Taiwan gustong agawin uli ng China, tapos dito (That's what I've been trying to avoid. There might be war here aside from Ukraine and Taiwan which China wants to reclaim)," he said.

"So may flashpoints. Maraming lugar na may putok. We do not need it. Hindi natin kailangang makipag-away diyan (There's fighting in many places. We don't need it. We don't need to fight because of that)," he added.

Keep our word

President Duterte then issued a general reminder that the country should keep its word with China about the joint exploration at the Recto Bank.

"Sundin lang ninyo kung ano yung pinag-usapan noon. Honor 'yan, eh (Just do what we've agreed upon). It's a matter of honor," he said.

"Nagkaroon ng (There were) consensual talks written agreement. 'Pag iniba 'yan, delikado (It's risky to change that)," he added.

"Hindi mangyari sa akin 'yan kasi ayaw ko. Ayaw kong ibahin kasi yun ang pinag-usapan namin sa panahon ko (That won't happen under my watch because I don't want to change it because that's what we agreed on during my time)," he continued.

'Stay cool'

The President said it would be better to just "stay cool" as the country's issues with China will unlikely be resolved during this generation.

"Stay cool. Chill ka lang (Just chill). Maybe it's not our generation na maso-solve natin itong problema sa China (who will solve our problems with China)," Duterte said.

"I don't know what the future holds but at this time, relax lang tayo (let's just relax)... Do not tempt the gods and look for trouble that we cannot, maybe, handle, or mahirapan tayo (will be difficult for us)," he added.

In 2019, reports said that the Philippines and China agreed on a 60-40 sharing in favor of the Philippines in the joint exploration of the Recto Bank which is adjacent to the Malampaya gas field in Palawan.

The Philippines' quest at the Recto Bank came as the Malampaya gas field, which accounts for 20 percent of the country's power supply, is expected to run dry soon.

The talks about the joint exploration at the Recto Bank were made public months after a Chinese trawler hit a Filipino fishing boat around the area and abandoned its 22 passengers as their vessel tilted. The passengers were later on rescued by a Vietnamese boat.