Cayetano: Duterte ready for war in West Philippine Sea
Despite his frequent defeatist talk, President Rodrigo Duterte is ready to declare war on China or any other country if they attempt to exploit the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Monday.
West Philippine Sea is the local name of the waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Cayetano gave assurance of President Duterte’s readiness to defend the Philippines’ sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea before Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials who attended the weekly flag-raising ceremony at their head office on Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
“The President has said that. If anyone gets the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, he will go to war,” Cayetano said in his speech, an official transcription of which was provided to reporters by the DFA’s Office of Public Diplomacy.
“He said, ‘Bahala na.’ [But] he will go to war,” Cayetano said.
“Bahala na” is an expression Filipinos use when they don’t know what happens next. The closest equivalent in English is “whatever will be, will be,” from Doris Day’s 1956 song “Que sera, sera.”
Cayetano’s remarks seemed to contradict the President’s recent pronouncements that he preferred to maintain friendship with China rather than engage the Asian giant in a war over the two countries’ territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
Addressing the 120th anniversary of the Philippine Navy on May 22, the President reiterated that he would not go to a war he could not win.
“Whether you accept it or not, that’s the reality on the ground,” the Pressaid.
In a speech in Davao City on Feb. 10, he said: “This is not the time to be fighting over the South China Sea because it will only lead to war.”
But Cayetano said the President, who has been criticized for his refusal to confront China with the Philippines’ 2016 victory in the arbitration of the two countries’ territorial row, had actually warned that he would go to war against Beijing if it broke the “red lines” his administration had set in dealing with the South China Sea dispute.
The first red line, he said, is for Beijing not to build anything on Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, the site of a two-month standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships in 2012 that led to Manila’s challenge to Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
China should also not attempt to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where the government grounded it in 1999 to mark Philippine territory in the Spratly archipelago, he added.
“Our soldiers should not be harassed when they deliver supplies or when they repair the runways,” Cayetano said, referring to the small airstrip on Pag-asa (Thitu), the biggest Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys.
“Another red line is that nobody will get natural resources there on their own,” he said.
The President has spoken about joint exploration for oil and natural gas with China in the West Philippine Sea, likening it to “co-ownership” and drawing fire from critics, who have pointed out that his idea runs counter to the Constitution, which reserves natural resources in Philippine territory exclusively to Filipinos.
Cayetano assailed the President’s critics, including a “Supreme Court justice” who has been prodding the administration to protest China’s militarization of the South China Sea.
Cayetano was clearly referring to acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been reminding the administration that its failure to protest China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea means acquiescence.
Cayetano said the administration’s decision to keep mum did not mean it was not doing anything to deal with China and to defend the country’s territory and sovereignty.
“Even the President himself told (Chinese) President Xi Jinping, ‘That is ours. The West Philippine Sea is ours. We want to start digging for oil and gas in the South China Sea.’ How much stronger a statement can that be?” he said.
“At the right time, we will prove you wrong because nothing is secret forever. Even the US, they declassify materials,” he said.
“When we declassify all of these, once we have achieved our purposes in the future, you will see that the DFA was not remiss in filing diplomatic action,” he added.