By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte is counting on China to keep its word not to conduct reclamation works on the Scarborough Shoal located in the West Philippine Sea.
The President said he remained optimistic that China would not occupy or build any structure on the local island as he ruled out any “violent” or “suicide action” to resolve the conflict in the disputed waters.
“China has put it on record, that near the Pag-asa, where we also have our bay there, the Scarborough Islands, China has committed to us not to build anything there. I hope that they would honor that commitment to us,” he said upon arrival in Davao City from his visit to Japan last Tuesday night.
Duterte stressed that he values a sovereign leader’s word of honor, noting that reneging on any commitment might lead to loss of trust.
“Once I commit to you as a President of a sovereign state, what comes out of my mouth is what it is and it’s always a commitment with honor,” he said. “Anything less than that, you lose respect… They probably would not have the time to — or anybody inviting us for a talk and discuss giving aid and assistance to the country,” he added.
Asked if China does honor its commitment not to occupy Panatag Shoal, Duterte said the matters should be addressed to China, not him. He said the Philippines is not the country illegally occupying a territory.
The territorial conflict in the regional waters was among the topics tackled by Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting in Tokyo a few days ago. The two leaders had previously agreed on the importance of freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of dispute and rule of law in dealing with the territorial spat in the region.
While Japan has an unresolved dispute with China over East China Sea, the Philippines and several other nations have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Tensions in the South China have mounted since 2010 when China started to boost its presence in the area known to be rich in oil reserves and marine resources.
Apart from the Philippines and Japan, Duterte said freedom of navigation in the regional waters was a concern of other claimant nations such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“There’s a lot of buildings there by China, and also some other countries are claiming some islands — Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia. It could be, really, a messy thing not only for the Philippines. Pati sila. Because each and every country has — has an economic zone and it is overlapping,” he aid.
The President, however, ruled out the use of force or violence to settle the territorial row in the South China Sea. He said he still prefers to pursue peaceful dialogue with China, instead of resorting to combative approach.
“We can resolve it by just talking,” he said.
“I cannot imagine myself getting involved in a violent and almost a suicide action,” he said. “There is no space to talk about a violent option, let us just continue (to talk),” he said.
Duterte said he was not ready to lose the country’s territory in the West Philippine Sea, adding he hopes the matter will be resolved peacefully soon.
“I hope we will reach that stage and China is a good listener,” he said.
The President’s comments come ahead of a regional summit in Manila that was expected to be hounded by the lingering territorial conflict in the South China. Negotiations are still underway for the code of conduct of concerned parties to ease tension in the disputed waters.