Contrary to his critics’ claim, President Rodrigo Duterte maintained that he is not giving up the country’s sovereign rights to any claimant nation in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“So now the situation there in West Philippine Sea. We are not giving up our rights,” Duterte said in his speech during last Tuesday’s send-off program for an all-Filipino marine scientists team that will conduct a one-month research in the uncontested Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise.
Duterte said he had actually discussed the WPS issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping in one of his three visits in China.
“We talked about the China Sea and suddenly I blurted that, “you know, Mr. President, we are claimants to that island and we have this arbitral award. Though I am not insisting on its solution now, I’d like you to know that I am going to China Sea to claim part of our territory and I will dig oil’,” he said.
“I was that forward. It was only pushing on. I really told in front of him in a bilateral meeting, all of them were there,” he said, referring to his Cabinet members including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Duterte said Xi, whom he described as “an ever cool guy,” calmly responded: “Well, we just restored our relationships. I think it’s a new era for us, a new day and if I may beg you not to bring this up forcefully because there will be a time that we will be discussing it”.
Duterte agreed with Xi but reminded him that he will raise the WPS issue again during his term as President.
He said China is now offering a joint exploration and development in the WPS.
“He (Xi) said, maybe you’ll have a bigger share, let’s see,” Duterte said.
Duterte said instead of going to war, he opted to negotiate, a move which has revived and improved Philippines-China relations.
“In a matter of a few months, China was able to build a garrison. And we cannot do it. So he said let us be friends. In the meantime, time will come. There is always a time for everything,” Duterte said.
Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimant countries in the WPS include Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
During their last bilateral meeting on the sidelines of Boao Economic Forum in Hainan, China last month, Duterte said the Chinese leader assured him that China will help the Philippines in times of needs and trouble.
“In China, in front of the Philippine delegation, we will be — China will never allow the Philippines to be destroyed. We will be there if you need us,” he said.
Duterte said Xi also gave him “encouraging” assurance that “we will not allow you to be taken out from your office and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs”.
“Perhaps because I am a freely elected leader, it could be a very justified statement,” he said. PNA