Duterte says he quarreled with China

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte says he quarreled with China
In this Nov. 11, 2017 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meet at the Intercontinental Da Nang Resort in Vietnam.
Robinson Niñal Jr. / Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted quarreling with China after Chinese troops tried to drive away Philippine Navy planes flying over disputed areas in the West Philippine (South China) Sea last month. 

Duterte, who has been accused of not doing enough to assert the Philippines' claims in the area, said China accused Filipino pilots of causing trouble despite the friendly relations between Manila and Beijing. 

"Kaya nag-away kami (That's why we quarreled with each other). We had a little bit of... not really animosity but when the Navy was approaching the area, they shouted: 'You Filipinos, you get there, you will be causing trouble.' They did that even if we are friends," the president said during an interview with his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo last Tuesday. 

"We have a claim there... In the eyes of the world, that's ours, not theirs," he added. 

Last month, British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) released a video showing a Philippine military plane receiving stern warnings from the Chinese military. 

The Philippine aircraft was reportedly flying over the artificial islands built by China on West Philippine Sea areas that are also being claimed by the Philippines. The Chinese military demanded that the Philippine aircraft "leave immediately" or "bear the responsibility for all the consequences."

China has built artificial islands on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, South China Sea areas located off the province of Palawan. 

Despite the episode, Duterte stressed that he would not go to war with China over the dispute because it would cause the "slaughter" of Filipino troops. 

"I cannot make a move to remove them forcibly, because I’ll end up in a war, which we will be losing," the president said. 

"If I tell you 'let's go for it,' will you survive? It will result in a slaughter. We thought about me. Not just me. Even the military officials in my cabinet." 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque downplayed the tiff, saying the president might have just lost his temper. 

"It was not really a quarrel but perhaps he lost his temper, that's a better expression. He lost his temper because of the reported warning given to our pilots flying over the area that is ours," Roque said in a press briefing Wednesday.  

Roque said the relationship between the Philippines and China was unchanged despite the tiff. 

"Ang hindi pwedeng mapagkasunduan, isinasantabi; ang pupwedeng isulong, isinusulong (The contentious issues can be set aside. We can move forward on issues that can move forward)... There is no change in our policy," he added. 

Roque said the next step for the Philippines and China is the signing of a joint exploration deal, a move that he said would address the impact of rising oil prices.

"It is really important to push through with the exploration so we can have energy security," the presidential spokesman said. 

Critics claim Duterte is too soft on the South China Sea row because of the development and military aid promised by China. Duterte has repeatedly said he would not give up even an inch of the Philippines' territory and has vowed to discuss the South China Sea row with Chinese leaders before he steps down.

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