MANILA, Philippines – He won’t pick a fight with China, but he would happily beat up the one who seized Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal if given the chance, President Duterte said yesterday.
Addressing soldiers at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Duterte said that while he would not insist on making China follow the ruling of the UN-backed arbitral court in The Hague favoring the Philippine position on the West Philippine Sea, he made clear it would be bloody if the Chinese make further attempts to trample on Philippine sovereignty.
“Yung kumuha ng Scarborough yun ang gusto ko upakan (Whoever seized Scarborough Shoal, that’s the one I want to punch),” Duterte said.
“We will not raise hell now because of the judgment but there will come a time that we have to do some reckoning about this,” he said.
He called on Beijing to show good faith and to foster good relations with the Philippines.
“I hope China is dealing with us in good faith. They seem to be conciliatory. We’re not insisting on arbitral judgment, I know they’re listening to us now, they can monitor us through satellite,” he said.
“But they better come up with what they really want. Because whether we like it or not, that arbitral judgment would be insisted, not only by the Philippines but the whole countries here in Southeast Asia,” he said.
He stressed China would pay a high price if it dares to attack the Philippines.
“I am sure, I guarantee them, kung kayo pumasok dito (if you come here)…it will be bloody. And we will not give it to them easily. It will be the bones of our soldiers pati na sa akin isali niyo (include even mine),” he said.
“We’ll not allow any country to bamboozle (us). We’ll not allow it,” Duterte added.
He noted that other claimant countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei might also use the UN ruling to further assert their rights in areas where they have conflict with China.
Even the United States, which is an ally, would definitely prod the Philippines to use the UN ruling to assert the country’s position, the President added.
“But we will chart our own course in the national interest of this country,” he said.
Duterte’s challenge to Beijing came as the latter was offering to help the country rehabilitate military camps and boost the weapons capability of the Philippine National Police.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa has been invited to China, the President noted.
“The problem is what about us? What about the issue between us? We will not raise hell now because of the judgment but there will come a time that we have to do some reckoning about this,” he said. He said his administration is committed to modernizing the armed forces.
“We just have to spruce up your arms and your training and everything. We’ll take in more men so we can defend our motherland. We do not want a quarrel. I would walk the extra mile to ask for peace for everybody,” he added.
No rebalance of ties
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China has not caused Manila to rebalance diplomatic ties with either its ally the United States or neighboring China.
“We want to make close friendship with China. It does not mean that we’ll weaken our friendship with the United States,” Yasay told Reuters during a break in a meeting of the senate foreign relations committee.
“We’re just saying that in spite of our disputes, as regards China on the South China Sea, there are other aspects of our relationship that can proceed without having to touch upon the South China Sea issue.”
On Tuesday evening, President Duterte said he expects talks with China over the maritime dispute within a year.
Duterte, who has been in office for seven weeks, said the Philippines will not raise the issues next month at a summit in Laos of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which the Chinese foreign ministry welcomed. “We look forward to China and the Philippines conducting dialogue at an early date,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday.
“We believe the two sides have the ability and the wisdom to appropriately discuss and resolve problems, promote the return of relations to a track of healthy development, and bring benefits to both countries’ people,” he said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea through which about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea believed to be rich in oil and gas.
China has made seven artificial islands in the disputed waters, three of them have airfields that can accommodate fighters, bombers and tankers to refuel aircraft.
At the senate hearing, Yasay said the United States will not allow China to reclaim Panatag Shoal.
In 2012, China seized Panatag Shoal after a standoff with the Philippines Navy.