NO matter what, the Philippines owns the West Philippine Sea (WPS), President Duterte insisted last Monday in front of senators, members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, other government officials, and associates present at the Batasan Pambansa during his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
“National honor and integrity will be foremost on our mind. The West Philippine Sea is ours, no ifs and buts,” Duterte said when he explained his stand on our country’s territorial dispute with China.
To some people, the President’s bold approach to the problem appeared somewhat lacking when he said the country needs to temper its claim in line with the realities of the maritime dispute.
Duterte promised Filipinos that the government would stand up for the Philippines’ rights in the WPS in due time. But the question in the minds of some Filipinos is when the proper time would be for us to assert our rights.
The President said should war break out even on a limited scale, there would be more destruction, more widows, and more orphans. He prefers to handle the maritime dispute with Beijing in a peaceful way.
He explained that the avoidance of armed conflict and the protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act.
* * *
After his SONA, Duterte spoke to reporters and said he would assert Manila’s rights when China’s oil exploration begins. But he should have explained in detail during the SONA how he intended to accomplish this.
Let’s face it. It would not be easy for Duterte to tell the Chinese president that the territory is ours, and we also have rights to the oil they want to explore.
And how can the President be certain that China is willing to go into armed conflict when other neighboring countries with similar claims have asserted their rights without going to war?
Some of Duterte’s statements can even give China the notion that we are a weak country, easily bullied and terrified.
Duterte previously stated that President Xi once warned him against drilling for oil in the disputed area. If our Chief Executive tried to explain our rights to the Chinese leader, what assurance could he give to the Filipinos that Xi would listen to him now?
A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted from June 22 to 26 showed that nearly 90 percent of Filipinos believe the government should assert its claims in the WPS. Can Duterte accomplish this?
* * *
SHORT BURSTS… For comments or reactions, email [email protected] or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at http://www.tempo.com.ph/category/opinion/firing-line/