President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday confirmed that China is capable of sending guided missiles from the artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea to Manila in just seven minutes.
Continuing his promised “lecture” on the WPS, the President recalled his bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping in 2016.
“In that meeting, I said, I want to go to my territory to dig oil because that is ours, President Xi said: ‘Well you know there’s a conflict there.’ [So] rather than go there and have a confrontation, not necessarily the warships, but [the] squabble there could lead to something else.’ So, we just became friends,” Duterte said in his fourth State of the Nation Address.
“He (Xi) said it softly, ‘It can make trouble.’ If the word ‘trouble’ comes out of the mouth of a President of a republic, then what can I do?” he added.
The Chief Executive, who told Filipinos that the WPS is “ours” without “ifs and buts,” said again that he cannot risk a war against the Asian giant, saying he is not ready to leave widows and orphans in the process.
Duterte also said he cannot send the country’s naval forces to drive the Chinese fishermen away in the WPS, because “no one will come home alive” should they push through.
“If I send my marines to drive away from the Chinese fishermen. I guarantee you, not one of them will come home alive. They will be finished because there are already guided missiles in the island,” he said.
“And the fastest that they have installed there can reach Manila in seven minutes. You want war?” he continued.
He also said that Manila is compelled to perform a “delicate balancing act” with Beijing just to avoid armed conflict and protect the Philippines’ territorial waters and natural resources.
“The avoidance of armed conflict and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act,” he said.
“A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its way. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, more widows, and more orphans should war, even on a limited scale, break out,” he added.
The President said the Philippine government and the Chinese government can settle the issue more effectively through diplomatic negotiations.
“Let me assure you, that national honor and territorial integrity shall be foremost in our mind, and when we may take the next steps in this smoldering controversy over the lines of the arbitral ruling, the West Philippine Sea is ours,” he said.
“There is no ifs and buts. It is ours. But we have been acting, along with that legal truth and line. But we have to temper it with the times and the realities that we face today,” he added.
Senator Richard Gordon said he was disappointed with the President’s pronouncements on the WPS.
“We have to show our backbone… I’m saying it is ours, so we have to enforce it,” Gordon said.
Deploying the Coast Guard to the WPS does not mean the country will go to war, he added.
On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri and Senator Grace Poe said they understand the stance of the President.
All of them, however, said they were pleased with the President’s clear statement about the country’s claim on the WPS.