Duterte: West Philippine Sea is ours,''no ifs and buts''
President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed on Monday that the Philippines owns the West Philippine Sea, "no ifs and buts."
Duterte made the statement in his Fourth State of the Nation Address, which was attended also by members of the diplomatic corps, including Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.
"Let me assure you, that national honor and territorial integrity shall be foremost in our mind, and when we may take the next steps in this smoldering controversy over the lines of arbitral ruling, the West Philippine Sea is ours. There is no ifs and buts. It is ours," he said.
Administrative Order No. 29, which former President Benigno Aquino III signed on Sept. 5, 2012, named the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea.
The areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands) and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
But Duterte said his administration has to "temper" its actions.
"But we have been acting along that legal truth and line. But we have to temper it with the times and the realities that we face today," he said.
In recent weeks, Duterte received flak from various quarters especially after the June 9 ramming incident, resulting in the sinking of a a motorized fishing boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen in the Recto Bank, an area within the West Philippine Sea, by a Chinese vessel.
Duterte downplayed the incident as he even allowed Chinese fishermen to fish within the country's EEZ.
But in the same SONA, Duterte said that "in due time," his administration would fully fight for its right in the South China Sea, including the stop of Chinese fishermen within the Philippine EEZ.
"There are those who say that we should stand up and stop those who fish in our economic zone. Of course, we will do in due time," Duterte said.
In an interview with reporters after his SONA, Duterte said the due time would be when China starts digging oil in the the Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea or "maybe on the second or the first term of my last year, God willing, if I'm still alive."
Duterte's term ends by noon of June 30, 2022.
But he also said that during his earlier talks with China, the "60-40" sharing on oil exploration was "bruited."
"And perhaps because they are being extra generous or just parleying goodwill. That's fine with me. We do not have the resources. We do not have the capital to invest in digging oil. It’s so expensive. It can only be done by a huge capital outlay which we cannot afford," he said.
But he did not mention if the 60-40 agreement would still push through.
Duterte also said when he allowed Chinese to fish within the country's territory, "that was on the premise that I own the property."
But he conceded that China is "in control" of the South China Sea.
China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea, including those areas within the EEZ of other countries, like the Philippines.
Duterte reiterated that he just wants to avoid armed conflict, thus, he has to do a "balancing act" insofar as the territorial dispute with China is concerned.
"The avoidance of conflict --- armed conflict and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act. A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, more widows and more orphans, should war, even on a limited scale, breaks out," he said.
Duterte said he still prefers to address the territorial row with China through negotiations.
"More and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public. That is why I will do in the peaceful way, mindful of the fact that it is our national pride and territorial integrity that are at stake," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS