While the military warned of Chinese militia vessels near Pag-asa Island
, President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday defended his administration’s ties with China, saying Beijing only wants to be friends with the Philippines.
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In a speech during the campaign sortie of the ruling PDP-Laban in Malabon City, the President said China provides military assistance to the Philippine government without asking for any of the country’s territories in return.
“You know, China just wants to be friends with us. They gave us arms, ammunition. I went there because America failed to deliver what we ordered,” Duterte said.
“Even until now they are not asking for anything. They do not even ask for a territory. The fight there I don’t think we can do it,” he added.
The President also said he did not campaign to boost the country’s infrastructure when he ran for president because he was unsure if China would back his endeavor.
“There were so many things I never mentioned, including the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program because I was not sure if China would deal with me when I become president,” he said.
“It was only when I went there and talked with them and Russia, while the Americans doubted,” he added.
The President said the Philippines cannot square up to China, noting the country is no match for Beijing’s military might.
“If I go to war, my Navy will be crushed in a matter of minutes. If I wage a war with China, in seven minutes their missile will reach Manila,” he said.
“Why would I quarrel with them? Why would I waste my police and soldiers? Life is at stake,” he added.
The President’s remarks came in the wake of the military command’s admission that Chinese militiamen have established a presence in the disputed waters near Pag-asa Island.
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On Monday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said there are 275 Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa Island, one of the Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea. He said an earlier report claiming 600 vessels was exaggerated.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua then said that while Panelo’s figures have yet to be verified, the Chinese vessels are manned only by fishermen, adding the Chinese government is in constant connection with its Philippine counterparts to “verify if there is any truth to that kind of report.”
The top Chinese envoy assured the Filipino people that they do not have to worry about the supposed deployment of militiamen in the disputed areas.
But Panelo said he was inclined to believe military reports that Chinese militia, and not fishermen, were in the boats.
“The military command says from their point of view, it’s militiamen. So, who do I believe? The military, of course,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing Tuesday.
The Palace official has already said that a diplomatic protest over China’s supposed presence near Pag-asa island was “on the way” to Beijing to “thresh out the issue.”
Panelo twitted critics who did not believe the administration has filed a protest.
“They are just finding things to criticize. They should take the word of the public officials—it’s already been sent to them [China],” Panelo said in a radio interview with dwFM on Wednesday morning.
Panelo said the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines had informed him that they recommended a diplomatic protest, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also assured him that a note verbale was already sent to China to address the issue.
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“We have already made our position very clear. You’re not welcome there, leave the area because you’re encroaching on our territory. That’s how simple it is,” Panelo said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, said the Philippines has become so friendly and accommodating to China that it might as well let Beijing occupy its territory.
“The fact that there are … Chinese militia vessels, not even fishermen, what does this indicate? Then we will say that we can’t go to war with China and that it would only take one missile to finish us. So if that’s the case, then let’s just allow them to occupy our territory, right?” he said in Filipino on CNN Philippines.
Lacson said Manila is better off refraining from repeatedly stating that it is too weak to fight Beijing.
“You already know that you are weak, don’t tell everyone that you’re weak because you would only be bullied further,” he said.
But he conceded that the only thing the Philippines can do for now is to file a diplomatic protest.
An Armed Forces spokesman said Wednesday that naval and air units regularly conduct “maritime domain awareness” patrols off Pag-asa Island.
“Our Navy vessel there is not stationary because, as you know, we respond to different missions. But what we can assure you is regularly we have Navy ships there and those are what we use in our daily missions and operations,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in an interview or radio dzMM Tuesday.
The military official was responding to a question on whether the Navy has deployed assets to the area following reports claiming that hundreds of Chinese vessels of various types were swarming Pag-asa Island.
Arevalo also said that these naval patrols are augmented by Air Force aircraft.
He clarified that the military has yet to receive reports of Filipino fishermen being harassed or subjected to any act of aggression by these Chinese vessels. With PNA
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