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Duterte hits US for lack of action in South China Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte listens as a reporter asks a question during a press conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Monday, March 13, 2017. The Philippine president has ordered the military to assert his country's ownership of a vast offshore region off its northeastern coast where Chinese survey ships have been sighted last year and alarmed defense officials. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has questioned the silence of the United States over Chinese activities in the disputed South China Sea.

The president said that only the US can deal with China over the contested waters.

"Why in hell ang America siya lang talaga ang pwede kumasa doon bakit sabihin niya ngayon magpunta ang Navy ko? It will be a massacre for my soldiers, I will not do it (Why would America tell me to have my Navy sent to the South China Sea when it is the only one that can posture there?)," Duterte said in a speech during the opening ceremonies of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines' 16th National Convention of Lawyers on Thursday evening.

Duterte noted that the Philippines had been warned about five years ago that somebody was going to build a structure in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.

RELATED: Forget jet skis, Chinese choppers can take Duterte to disputed islands

The president said that the US should have addressed Chinese activities in the area as soon as they were informed about it.

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"Bakit hindi mo pinuntahan doon? Bakit hindi mo sinita? Bakit hindi ka nagpadala ng limang aircraft carrier at kinasahan mo and you had to wait for the problem to ripen into international issue involving this time so many countries... You could have cut the problem in the bud had you taken a decisive action," Duterte said.

The US government under former President Barack Obama, however, deployed several freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, challenging China's excessive maritime claims. From October 2015 to September 2016 alone, the US challenged five of China's claims, including its so-called jurisdiction over airspace above another country's exclusive economic zone and Beijing's laws criminalizing survey activities in the area.

No match for China

Duterte stressed that the Philippines cannot match China's military power in case a war brews in the region.

"Wala tayong cruise missiles, wala tayo noon (We don't have cruise missiles, we don't have those). We are no match and we have to be brutally frank to admit it. 'Wag na natin bolahin ang sarili natin (Let's not delude ourselves)," the president said.

Duterte said on Thursday that China assured him that they will not build structures in Panatag Shoal out of respect for its friendship with the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the US has ramped up its patrols in the South China Sea in response to an assertive China.

The USS Carl Vinson, which is deployed at the Western Pacific as part of the US Pacific Fleet patrolling the Indo-Asia-Pacific, recently visited the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier strike group was deployed as part of the initiative to extend the command and control functions of the US 3rd Fleet.

The carrier, which began routine operations on February 18, was accompanied bu one warship, making it unlikely that the escort would break off for a freedom of navigation operation.

The Trump administration has signaled a tougher approach in the region.

"We have operated here in the past, we're going to operate here in the future, we're going to continue to reassure our allies," Rear Admiral James Kilby, commander of the San Diego-based Carrier Strike group 1. — with reports from Associated Press

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