MANILA – President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Monday that the Philippines’ long-running issue with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) can only be resolved through diplomatic discussions, not by force.
Duterte made the statement while assuring the public that he will not hand up the WPS to China.
“We need to do more in our partners. We continue scaling our maritime domain awareness, defense capabilities. Yet, we will not close our doors for diplomacy because that is how disputes are settled and never by force,” he said in his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The Philippines won its case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, on July 12, 2016, when the court declared Beijing’s allegedly historic rights over nearly the entire South China Sea, including the WPS, unconstitutional.
China has persistently disregarded the 2016 PCA decision, while the Philippines has sought a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the territorial issue.
The arbitration law, according to Duterte, is “now part of the international law and beyond compromise and beyond the reach of the passing governments to dilute, to diminish, or abandon”.
He did admit, however, that he couldn’t force China to recognize the favorable sea ruling for the Philippines.
“What will I do with a document that (does) not bind China because they were never a part of that arbitration? There was really no arbitration at all because it was only the Philippines’ side,” Duterte said. “Well and good, but ito ngayon (now) that there is the arbitral ruling, you know, I do not want to insult these people pushing me for something (that is) more than what I can handle.”
No battle with China
Duterte also reaffirmed his position that he would never order his army to attack China.
He claimed that the Philippines could not afford to go to war because it lacks the necessary weapons to protect the WPS.
“It would be a massacre if I go and fight a war now. We are not yet a competent and able enemy of the other side. So, what I did was I was just being nice to them,” Duterte said.
Not acquiring funds for personal interest
Duterte also denied that he is receiving money from China for personal gain, as some have claimed.
He said that he never sought money from China in order to win his presidency.
“For some people to say that I was helped by China in being president, these idiots really, I will never, never do that. Hindi na bale akong hindi mag-presidente. Hindi ko talaga gagawin ‘yun (I would rather choose not to be president. I would never do that). To be what? Receiving money from China to buy votes?” he said.
Duterte further stated that he had only the opportunity to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping only after he was elected president.
“Hindi ako tinulungan ng China. Nag-usap kami (China did not help me. We talked), let’s say civilly but after election. And after election, I was a good friend of President Xi. Until now. When the pandemic struck, the first country I called for help was China,” he said.
Duterte remarked that China was the first country to assist the Philippines in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak.
He stressed that he must repay China’s hospitality by being its “true” friend.
“‘Pag may utang na loob ako sa’yo (When I have a debt of gratitude to you), you can be sure of it, I will be your friend, a true friend, and die for you,” Duterte said.
Nonetheless, Duterte stated that the Philippines will no longer make decisions or take measures “in the shadows of great powers”.
He added that, while he will continue to engage with all nations, in resolving issues, “the majesty of the law must prevail”.
“Make no mistake rather, gone are the days when the Philippines decides and acts in the shadows of great powers. We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people,” the President said.