President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday night he will not give up Pag-asa Island in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) amidst the reported presence of hundreds of Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels circling the area.
“Lay off the Philippines’ Pag-asa Island, it’s ours,” President Duterte stated on April 4, during his speech at the campaign rally of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN) at the City Coliseum.
He said Pag-asa Island is a property of the Philippines since 1974 and if it is owned by China, it should have driven away Filipinos there a long time ago.
The president said instead of cowing Filipino fishermen in the area, China and the country should be friends and compromise.
“I am trying to tell China ‘yong Pag-asa is ours. We have been there [since] 1974. Kung sa inyo ‘yan, bakit hindi niyo pinaalis kami? So let us be friends, but do not touch Pag-asa Island and the rest, otherwise things would be different,” Duterte said.
“This is not a warning, this is just a word of advice to my friends kasi kaibigan tayo ng China. I will not plead or beg, [but] I am just telling you lay off the Pag-asa because may mga sundalo ako d’yan. At ‘pag ‘yan ang ginalaw ninyo, ibang istorya na ‘yan. Sabihan ko na mga sundalo ko, ‘Prepare for suicide missions,” he added.
On Monday, Malacañang through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) filed a diplomatic protest against China due to the reported presence of hundreds of vessels and maritime militia surrounding the 37-hectare Pag-asa Island, the seat of government of Kalayaan and where a beach ramp is currently being built by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Duterte also added using force to drive away the Chinese vessels will only result in the slaughter of government troops, which is a decision he is not prepared to make.
Duterte mentioned that the presence of Chinese vessels on Pag-asa has something to do with geopolitics.
In his speech, he reiterated that the Philippines could not yet manage to wage war against China due to its lack of advanced weapon system.
“Ako wala akong choice. If I send my navy, mga sundalo ko doon bukas, and start to travel towards them, in a matter of seconds sasabog lahat ‘yan. Kung ipapadala ko ang mga sundalo ko and navy ko and marines, they will be slaughtered. Ang missile nila na naka-parking diyan will arrive in Manila in about four minutes. It will result in the slaughter and destruction of our country,” he pointed.
However, Duterte stressed that America vowed to help with the territorial disputes between China and Philippines.
Duterte said he trusts America, but doubts whether their help will be on time if he decides to push the button for war against China.
In 2013, the Philippines filed a case before the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration against China due to its territorial claims in the WPS.
Duterte said that while the arbitral tribunal’s ruling was in favor of the Philippines, China rejected the decision and resumed its militarization in the disputed locations.
“As a matter of fact, when I went to China the very first time bilateral, sinabi ko kay [China President] Xi Jinping, ‘We are taking our claim sa aming economic zone and we will dig oil in our territory.’ Because ‘yong arbitral nagka-kaso nanalo tayo. Anong sinabi ni Xi Jinping? Nandiyan [pa sa tabi ko] ‘yong mga military natin… sabi niya, ‘You know, Mr. President – [may] interpreter – hindi kaya mabuting mag-usap muna tayo? You know, if you insist on your position, there might be trouble. Why don’t we just talk about cooperating whatever we can do or say in these places?’ Iyan ang sinabi niya,” said Duterte.
Duterte also said he will reconfirm the information with the AFP regarding the presence of Chinese vessels surrounding Pag-asa, the seat of government of Kalayaan municipality.
He also reiterated he is not ready to send Filipino soldiers to war in the disputed region.
“I have to reconfirm that, otherwise, the military should inform me as urgent as what you are trying to say. China would never do that, hindi ako papayag na pati ang Pag-asa i-occupy nila, of cour note,” he said.