At final SONA, Duterte again claims waging war vs China only way to defend West Philippine Sea

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
At final SONA, Duterte again claims waging war vs China only way to defend West Philippine Sea
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his final State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa on July 26, 2021.
Screengrab RTVM

MANILA, Philippines — During his final State of the Nation Address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte said asserting the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea would lead to war with China, reviving a claim repeatedly disputed by experts. 

The president also reiterated his "utang na loob (indebtedness)" to Chinese President Xi Jinping who he again referred to as a "good friend."  

Duterte has fielded criticism over what has been called his appeasement policy towards China despite its refusal to acknowledge an arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, and its continued deployment of ships to the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. 

He addressed those critics at his final SONA, reminding them that he raised the award at last year's United Nations General Assembly, calling it "beyond compromise" and "part of international law."

He has also referred to the award, however, as "just a piece of paper" that he will "throw away." Duterte also said at the beginning of his term that he would "set aside" the ruling to pursue closer ties with China. 

"What's your problem [with] the arbitral ruling?" Duterte said, addressing the US and and "some" Filipinos. 

"Do you want war against China? Well, I'll tell you even on the coast, [the] beach of Palawan, before you can take off, the missile of China will be there in about five to 10 minutes. It will be a massacre," he said. "We are not yet a competent and able enemy of the other side."

None of Duterte's critics, however, are asking him to go to war with China.

Generally, lawmakers, experts and other stakeholders are asking him to assert the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea by ordering increased patrols in the area, working with other nations who want to uphold the rule of law in the South China Sea, filing diplomatic protests, and by suing Chinese vessels in international courts.

Earlier this year, some 220 ships were spotted swarming Julian Felipe Reef, triggering uncharacteristically heated exchanges between top officials from Manila and Beijing. 

Duterte shortly after barred his Cabinet members, save for his spokesman Harry Roque and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., from publicly commenting on the dispute with China. 

The ships have since dispersed from Julian Felipe Reef but the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said they moved to other areas within the Philippines' EEZ. 

Despite the slew of diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines over the matter, it had to fire another diplomatic protest in late May over what it called the "incessant deployment" of Chinese ships to Pag-asa Island. 

A report from US geospatial imagery and data analysis firm Similarity also found that hundreds of ships anchored in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in the last five years have dumped raw sewage causing damage that  "is visible from space" and will "take decades to recover from."


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