He issued the challenge in a speech in Leyte on Friday. “Sabi nila US-RP pact. OK. Let America declare the war. Let them assemble all their armaments there in South China Sea.
Duterte dares US on sea row: Fire first shot
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is challenging the United States to wage war with China and even fire the first shot if it is determined to stop the Asian giant from militarizing the South China Sea.

He issued the challenge in a speech in Leyte on Friday. “Sabi nila US-RP pact. OK. Let America declare the war. Let them assemble all their armaments there in South China Sea. Fire the first shot and I’ll be glad to do the next. May RP-US pact man kaha tayo, eh di let us honor it. Do you want trouble? OK, let’s do it,” Duterte added.

He admitted having a dilemma between enforcing an international arbitral court ruling issued in 2016 in favor of the Philippines and further pursuing friendlier relations with Biejing.

“How do I enforce the arbitral ruling? I will go there with the Navy, and I insist and say, ‘Hey, you guys, you go out.’ And China, ‘No, what do you want?’ So there will be war,” Duterte said.

The President earlier sparked criticism over his announcement of a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which allows the Chinese to fish unhampered in the West Philippine Sea. Critics see the Chief Executive’s stance as tantamount to treason – an impeachable offense.

Duterte explained that if a superpower like the United States could not prevent China from putting structures on land features in the South China Sea, then how much less could small nations like the Philippines do anything to pressure China.

Duterte noted China that has been displaying its defense capability to send a message to potential foes. Earlier, the Chinese were reported to have test fired ballistic anti-ship missiles from artificial island.

“All the modern missiles are there in the… ‘yung Spratly. Their missiles can reach from China, Spratly to Manila in seven minutes. So what am I supposed to do? Order my soldiers, navy, marines, police to go there and die?” he said.

Duterte said his critics would rather see Filipino soldiers dying helplessly in possible armed hostilities with China. “‘Yon ang gusto nila (Is that what they want)?” he said.

“Wala man talaga tayong laban. Ni ang America eh ayaw (We’re no match to them, even the Americans don’t want it),” he said referring to possible war with China.  “Despite their overflights tapos mga pakunwari (hypocrites),” Duterte said.

“Ngayon sabi ko, dalhin mo ‘yang lahat ng eroplano mo, barko mo dito sa (Bring your airplanes and ships here to) China, fire the first shot at nandito kami sa likod (we’ll be behind you). Sige, laban tayo kung sinong mapulpog. Totoo. America,” he said.

The Chief Executive said he hopes China would not be exerting pressure on other claimant-countries in the South China Sea.

“We can never win a war against China. Kaya ‘yan ang problema natin ngayon (that’s our problem now). I hope that China would not overdo things also because there is always America pushing us, egging us. Tinitikoy tayo para… Sige, sige. Ginagawa akong bait. Anong tingin ninyo sa Pilipino, wati (They’re using me as bait. What do you think of us Filipinos, worms)?” he said.

Duterte said the Philippines can invoke the Phl-US defense treaty only after the US makes the first move.

“Eh may panahon man talaga na mamatay ‘yung tao (There is time to die). But then what will happen to America? And what will happen to the Philippines and Asia? I really do not know. That’s geopolitics,” Duterte said.

He again took potshots at former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who joined former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in filing a complaint against China for the latter’s environmental abuse in the South China Sea.

“What happened was that si Albert, hindi talaga niya tinignan. And the Chinese never left the place. On that day, we lost Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal. I was not yet the president. That’s when we lost the Scarborough and the rest,” he said.

Duterte said even the filing of a complaint against China before the UN-backed arbitral court during the previous Aquino administration did not stop the Chinese from putting structures on Panatag Shoal.

“China says, ‘The China Sea is ours. It is not yours.’ But sabi natin na, ‘We won a case, we filed against you and sa arbitral ruling nanalo kami.’ So ipakita mo ‘yan sa Chinese, sabihin ng Chinese, ‘Kainin mo ‘yan kasi amin itong China Sea by historical and by ancient rules’,” he said.

With his open pivot to China, Duterte noted tremendous improvement in bilateral relations with the Asian giant. He said that while he believes no country can own an entire ocean, it is best for everyone not to agitate China at the moment. 

No joint probe

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reiterated on Twitter his rejection of a joint investigation with China of the Recto Bank incident.

“Let China make its case. I reject any proposal for a joint investigation let alone joint conclusion needing Chinese officials coming over to investigate something done to us in our territory,” the secretary tweeted in reaction to the findings of investigators from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority.

“Ping said, ‘Different if a Chinese was hurt.’ But no, we were hurt in our territory,” he added, referring to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

The June 9 Recto Bank incident referred to the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel. The Chinese left the 22 Filipinos drifting at sea for hours before being rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

Locsin has repeatedly rejected the conduct of a joint investigation, although President Duterte earlier approved the creation of a joint inquiry that was planned to include a neutral third party.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo later announced that China rejected having a third party in the proposed joint inquiry.

Still on Twitter, Locsin maintained that “fishing does not undermine sovereignty anywhere near as much as interfering in the basic state function to eliminate crime.”

He appears to be referring to Iceland’s move calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to approve a resolution seeking to investigate alleged human rights violations in the Philippines.

The secretary also floated the idea of China helping the Philippines uphold its sovereignty if western countries move to undermine it, again in the context of criticisms over the government’s war against illegal drugs.

“We stay in the Western camp on the assurance its presence in South China Sea upholds our country’s sovereignty to solve our problems as we see fit. We presented our case; it’s not been debunked. If West undermines our sovereignty, maybe China will help us uphold it. Turning point coming,” wrote Locsin.

“I am not ruling out China as a deterrent to Western interference in our sovereign rights to ensure peace and order in our country. Chinese foreign minister and I are solidly agreed that there is far more scope for mutually beneficial relations than our disagreements in the South China Sea,” he added. 

His earlier tweet, meanwhile, on the supposed result of the PCG-Marina probe was debunked by a maritime expert. Locsin earlier tweeted that the PCG report has painted a bad picture of the 22 Filipino fishermen.

“I do not agree that it paints a bad picture of our fishermen because what was highlighted was the fact that the local fishing industry is still mostly traditional,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said at a news forum.

He based his observation on excerpts of the investigation report leaked online.

Batongbacal said the incident could have been avoided had the Chinese ship stayed out of the country’s territorial waters.

He said the PCG report was focused on the issue of safety and that poaching by the Chinese was not tackled.  –  With Janvic Mateo, Emmanuel Tupas

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