Duterte says indebted to China for help; Philippine ships not leaving WPS
This undated photo shows a Philippine Coast Guard vessel patrolling in the West Philippine Sea
AFP/Ted Aljibe

Duterte says indebted to China for help; Philippine ships not leaving WPS

(Philstar.com) - May 14, 2021 - 1:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea "will not move an inch backward," President Rodrigo Duterte said in a taped message aired on Friday, saying also that there is little that the country can do against China, to whom the Philippines owes a debt of gratitude.

Duterte reiterated his "utang na loob" or indebtedness to China and his refusal to go to war with the regional power over Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea. Critics of government policy in the West Philippine Sea have stressed that war is not the only way to assert sovereignty in Philippine waters.

"Ayoko makipag-away sa China, ayoko sa lahat. May utang na loob kami, malaki. Buhay ang tinulong nila sa amin pero 'yung ano ng bayan, sana maintindihan niyo. Kung di niyo maiintindihan, magkakaroon talaga ng problema," he said.

(I don't want to quarrel with China, I don't want to quarrel with anyone. We have a debt of gratitude, a big one. They helped us to save lives... I hope you understand. If you don't understand, then there will be a problem.)

Duterte's policy on the West Philippine Sea has been under intense scrutiny in recent months as China seems unfazed by diplomatic protests and strongly-worded statements from the chief executive's alter egos. 

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea on Wednesday flagged the presence of 287 Chinese maritime militia ships near the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan, both within and outside the Philippine exclusive economic zone. The report comes less than two months after the task force reported the presence of 220 ships at Julian Felipe Reef. 

The president again referred to the 2016 arbitral ruling that found that China's nine-dash line claim does not have a basis in international law as just paper. He also referred to the United Nations as useless. 

"Ano pa bang papel gusto niyo, papuntahin ako doon? Kailan pa ba naging useful yang United Nations, kayo-kayo lang diyan. Puro kayo papel, puro theory."

(What more do you want? For me to go there? When has the United Nations been useful? You just talk among yourselves. You're just papers and theory)

He also said that Philippine ships "in Pag-asa or wherever...will not move an inch backward."

Hontiveros: Why talk like we've already lost?

"Why do they speak in the Palace as if they have already lost? They should take back those [statements] because only China is satisfied and benefitting from statements like that," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in Filipino earlier Friday. "That's probably why we cannot get the over 200 ships scattered across WPS to leave because [China] can hear what the Palace is saying." 

"It is unclear to everyone why the Palace does not condemn Chinese abuse. The whole country is affected by the toxic relationship of these best friends. The Filipino people know we deserve better," she added in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Duterte has repeatedly insisted that the country's landmark arbitral award in the South China Sea is unenforceable, calling it "just a piece of paper" that he will throw away.

He has also repeatedly claimed that asserting the Philippines' sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the country's exclusive economic zone, would lead to war with China and has been repeatedly chided by experts, academics, and lawmakers for saying so. 

Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque also recently said that the country was "never in possession" of Julian Felipe Reef and said it was outside of the Philippines' EEZ, contradicting government agencies that have condemned the presence of Chinese ships in the area. 

Gov't told: Coordinate WPS response among agencies 

Hontiveros also flagged the seeming lack of communication between agencies, noting that Locsin learned of the renewed incursion of Chinese vessels from the media and not the NTF-WPS. The top diplomat also lamented the task force's release of its statement to the media before he was informed of the situation. 

The senator emphasized that the government's positions and actions on the issue must be uniform across all agencies. 

"We are trying to assert our claim against a rising regional power that has never wavered in its irreverence for basic courtesy and international law. We must show a united front against the threats of China."

"Let us try to reconcile our voices because there is really only one thing we should be shouting about — the West Philippine Sea ours. The Philippines is ours," Hontiveros added in Filipino. 

Locsin on Thursday ordered another round of diplomatic protests in response to the report.  

— Bella Perez-Rubio 

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