Duterte: We can't stop Chinese structures in Panatag Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday the Philippines can't stop China's reported plan to  build  structures on the disputed Panatag shoal for now, but said he will confront the Asian superpower if it attempts to take resources from Philippine territory.

"We cannot stop China from doing this thing. Di nga na-para ng Amerikano [Americans weren't even able to halt it.]," said Duterte.

In a press conference prior to his departure for Myanmar on Sunday, Duterte said going to war against the economic superpower would be a losing battle for the militarily weaker Philippines.

Duterte, whose presidency has seen the Philippines inch closer to China instead of its traditional ally, the U.S., said there's not much the Philippines can do for now to prevent Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea.

"So what do you want me to do? What do you want? Declare war against China? I can, but we'll all lose our military and policemen tomorrow," he said.

 

Duterte's comments come after media reported on Friday of China's plans to build environmental monitoring stations in Panatag Shoal.

Panatag Shoal — also known as Scarborough Shoal — is a traditional fishing ground for Filipino fishermen, and part of the territories included in China's territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

At the height of the territorial dispute, China had closed off the shoal from Filipino fishermen. Chinese patrols only eased after Duterte's state visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2016.

But last week, a media report revealed China has plans to build newer structures- allegedly radar stations- in the shoal.

Read: China to build on Scarborough Shoal? SC Justice Carpio calls for PH action

This, while another set of reports said China had been surveying Benham Rise, another maritime territory east of the Philippines.

China is 'our friend'

In a statement issued Saturday, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned such structures may bolster China's claims in the disputed waters.

Carpio added, the installation of "radar stations" in the shoal will complete Chinese coverage of the West Philippine Sea and be used to enforce its "nine-dash line."

President Duterte, meanwhile, said the Chinese presence is nothing to worry about for now.

He added, there is nothing wrong with Chinese vessels crossing Philippine seas, as everyone is entitled the right of passage along the seas.

Duterte said if American naval ships were allowed to cross Philippine territory, Chinese coast guards should be able to do so as well.

He added, China, which this weekend inked a six-year development plan with the Philippines, is our friend.

Read: PH, China seal more economic deals

"China is also our friend, and now we are now improving on the economy because of the help of China. Bakit ka naman mag walang hiya para magdaan lang [Why would you make a fuss just because they're passing?]," he said.

The President said while he has no plans to raise the arbitral ruling right now, there will come a time when he will bring it back to the table.

Duterte said should China start to tinker with entitlements within the territories, the Philippines will be ready to revive the issue with the Asian superpower. 

"I said, 'I will not invoke the arbitral ruling now. But there will be a time in my term when I will bring the issue back on the table on the four square of the arbitral ruling and it will come.' When? When they shall start to tinker with the entitlements. Tubig pa lang ngayon eh [It's still water for now]." he said.

Duterte reiterated this upon his arrival at Myanmar, where he said he does not intend to impose the arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea, but will not hesitate to bring it up with China if it attempts to take resources from Philippine territory.

"Kung ang China [If China].. Magkuha sila [If they get] ng oil or uranium or whatever is inside the bowels of the sea, kakalabitin ko siya, ako ang may ari niyan [I will tell China I own it]. You claim it by historical right, by judgement I won and it's mine."

The President however, said he will not insist on Philippine sovereignity within the disputed waters.

"I will not insist on sovereignty or anything like that. It is not within our territorial waters," he said.

The Philippines' Defense Secretary earlier said the country will strengthen military facilities in the South China Sea.

In a Reuters report published Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed there are plans to upgrade military facilities in the disputed areas.

Lorenzana said these plans include a runway, a port, and a pier on Pag-asa island, which sits near Subi Reef. Subi Reef is one of China's seven manmade islands in the West Philippine Sea, and is alleged to have surface-to-air missiles along with other armaments.