AMID reports of Chinese construction in the disputed areas in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte said China had assured him it would honor its word not to build structures on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival from an official trip to Thailand on Thursday, the President said China won’t do anything that would jeopardize its relations with the Philippines.
“I was informed that they are not going to build anything at Panatag. Out of respect for our friendship they will stop it. Hindi nila gagalawin ‘yan sabi ng China. ‘Huwag kayong mag-alaala, magkaibigan tayo’ [They won’t touch it, China said. ‘Don’t worry, we’re friends],” Duterte said during a news conference.
“That was the assurance given by the Chinese government. They are not going to build anything on Panatag because they want our friendship. They [won’t] do anything to place it in jeopardy…China has a word of honor,” he added.
China is reportedly preparing to build monitoring stations on the islands situated in the disputed waters, including Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off Zambales province.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said the Philippine government should file a “strong protest” against China’s building activity, which could lead to militarization in the disputed waters.
Carpio urged Duterte to send the Philippine Navy to patrol at Panatag Shoal and invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty if China attacks the Philippine Navy.
‘Why pick a fight?’
But Duterte reiterated that his administration wants to avoid a rift with the Chinese government because it is not ready to wage war.
“This is what I said in China and it was bilateral… I said I come here in peace… I said I just want to trade with you and I want business because my country needs the money. But certainly, during my term, before it ends or in the middle of my administration, there has got to be a time when I will confront you with the arbitral judgment,” Duterte said.
“In the meantime, I set it aside. But I said remember my caveat that I will bring it up…When? When they shall have dug the minerals and the riches of the bowels of the sea. Bakit ako makipag-away ngayon [Why will I pick a fight today]?” he added.
Duterte is referring to the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that favored the Philippines over China. The tribunal ruled that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over areas within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers practically the entire South China Sea.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, calling it “a mere piece of paper.”
‘Free to enter’
The President also said that he had allowed the Chinese “innocent passage” in the disputed territories.
“You are free to enter, just inform the Navy, inform the Foreign Affairs secretary,” Duterte told the Chinese.
The Defense department earlier this month bared that Chinese survey ships were seen last year at Benham Rise, an undersea region that forms part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf east of Luzon, and is not a disputed area.
The President backtracked on his campaign statement that he would go to the disputed islands on a jet ski and wave the Philippine flag to dramatize the country’s claim to the islands.
During the 2016 presidential debates, Duterte said he would ask the Philippine Navy to bring him to the boundary of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands so he could “ride a jet ski while bringing the Philippine flag.”
“Why do you have to go there and look for a friction? A friction could cause explosion?… There is always the unchanging rule for that. I’m not bright but I’m a lawyer, the reality is miscalculation,” he said.