President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to send warships in the West Philippine Sea to drill for oil and other minerals should China begin to explore the area’s natural resources.
In his pre-recorded address, Duterte assured the public that he would send Philippine ships in the waters to stake a claim should China extract important minerals in the area.
“When we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is that is in the bowels of the China Sea, sa ating oil, diyan na ako, but by that time, I will send my ships there,” Duterte said.
“I will send my grace ships to state a claim. ‘Yan masiguro ninyo. Pag kinuha na yung oil, nickel diyan and precious stones, that would be the time kasi that would be time we should act on it,” the President added.
His remarks came amid criticisms over his supposed inaction to China’s occupation in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte reminded the Chinese government of their previous agreement that Manila and Beijing could only explore the area through joint oil and gas activity.
In 2019, Duterte said he would push for a joint exploration of natural resources with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea for as long as Manila gets the bigger share.
“Pag mag-umpisa na sila ng drill ng oil diyan, sabihin ko talaga sa China: ‘Is that part of our agreement? Because if it is not part of our agreement, if you start to drill oil there, I will also drill my oil there,'” the chief executive said.
But in the same speech, he admitted that he was not inclined to assert the country’s jurisdiction in the area for now.
Duterte also defended his silence over the presence of 200 Chinese ships within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, saying the country can only reclaim China-occupied areas in the West Philippine Sea by force and with bloodshed.
“If we go there, really to find out and to assert jurisdiction, it would be bloody. It would result in violence that maybe we cannot win,” he said.
“The issue of the West Philippine Sea remains a question forever until such time that we can take it back. Ang akin dyan is, walang iba, giyera lang,” Duterte added.
Duterte also lashed out at critics who wanted him to confront China over the continued presence of Chinese warships at the Julian Felipe Reef, located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone about 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
He particularly cited the purported group of 500 active and retired military officers who were allegedly plotting to oust him, as well as retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who has been criticizing him for his silence on the maritime dispute.
In the past week, a Twitter account dubbed “Info Ops” has been posting about an alleged Viber group composed of military officers who would supposedly withdraw their support to the President if he does not take a stronger stance against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio, meanwhile, has earlier said China would still believe it has the President’s ally because he has refused to publicize his stance on the matter.
The retired magistrate, who was part of the team that argued for the Philippines’ maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea before a Hague-based arbitration court, underscored that the presence of Chinese ships with the country’s territory is a “very important national issue” that should not be played down.
President Duterte has tip-toed on the maritime dispute and has cultivated cordial ties with China since assuming the presidency in 2016, as he sought Beijing’s funding and support on his big-ticket infrastructure programs.