During his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte once again mentioned that the disputed West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines, opposing the claims of Beijing. 

Duterte noted his stand and assured the Filipino people that he is thinking about the “national honor and territorial integrity” foremost.

“When we take next steps in this lingering controversy over the lines of arbitral ruling, the West Philippine Sea is ours, there is no ifs or buts, it is ours, but we have been acting along that legal truth and line, but we have to temper it with the times and realities that we face today,” Duterte said.

In the same speech, the President talked about the advice of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and explained that he is doing a “delicate, balancing act” with China in order to avoid armed conflict and to protect the territorial waters and natural resources of the Philippines.

“The avoidance of conflict – armed conflict and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources – compel us to perform a delicate balancing act,” he said.

Furthermore, he discussed that the country is not capable of getting into a war with Beijing, nor lose his soldiers in a military encounter. 

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Philippine Army conducts a flag-raising ceremony at the West Philippine Sea. (Image source: gmanetwork.com)

“A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake,” Duterte said.

“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. More and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public,” the President added. 

“That is why I will do in the peaceful way, mindful of the fact that it is our national pride and territorial integrity that are at stake,”  he said.

Duterte also clapped back against critics who seem to urge him to initiate a war against China. However, he has been sarcastic against his attackers, encouraging them to join the war once he executes the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

Duterte vows to fight for the West Philippine ‘in due time’

“Short of expressly advocating a call to arms, there are those who say that we should stand up and stop those who fish in our economic zone. Of course we will do [so] in due time,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a post-SONA press conference, the President asserted that he has clarified with China that the Philippines also has its authority over some areas in the South China Sea.

“We are a claimant, they are a claimant. So, we’ll have to say, ‘look, don’t forget me.’ I will insist that as an owner, though conflicting with you… we also have, must have, a share of the resources,” he said.

Moreover, he said that we would certainly bring up the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the appropriate time, but not for now. 

The President stated that there was dialogue on sharing 60-40 in terms of oil exploration in a contested area. For that, China looks ‘generous’ for permitting the agreement as the Philippines has no resources to develop the area. 

“We do not have the [resources], we do not have a capital in digging oil. It’s so expensive,” he said.

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