Cayetano: Duterte ready for war over West Philippine Sea resources

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) — President Rodrigo Duterte will go to war if one of the government's so-called "red lines" in the South China Sea dispute is crossed, the country's top diplomat said.

"Sinabi na ng Pangulo 'yun (The President had said that). If anyone gets the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea, he will go to war. Sabi niya, 'Bahala na' (He said, 'Let it be'). He will go to war," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a speech on Monday.

Duterte has been criticized for his "defeatist" stance on the maritime dispute as he publicly said the Philippines cannot afford to go to war against China.

In March, however, Duterte warned he will wage war against those who explore Philippine Rise, also known as Benham Rise, without the government's approval.

No other country has claims in Benham Rise east of the country, even as the President has repeatedly asserted ownership of the vast undersea region after Chinese survey ships were spotted there in March last year.

Cayetano said both the Philippines and China have set rules each other must respect amid the South China Sea dispute.

"We have to build trust. They said some red lines, we said some red lines," Cayetano said.  

For one, the Philippines does not want other countries to exploit the natural resources in disputed waters "on their own," Cayetano said.

The government calls as West Philippine Sea areas in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty both the Philippines and China had signed.

This is stated in the July 2016 landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which China refused to acknowledge. China continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.

Duterte has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term, or until 2022.

Other red lines

Aside from exploring the disputed waters without Philippines' approval, Cayetano said China also should not build on Scarborough, also known as Panatag Shoal, one of the islets and reefs in the South China Sea.

The issue hogged headlines in 2017 as China reportedly plans construction on Scarborough. The government has accepted China's pronouncement it has no official plans to build anything there.

Cayetano revealed more red lines. "Hindi dapat i-attempt man lang na tanggalin ang ship natin na nandoon sa Ayungin [Shoal].   Hindi dapat hina-harass ang soldiers natin 'pag nagre-resupply o 'pag inaayos katulad ng mga runway."

[Translation: They should not even attempt to remove our ship on Ayungin Shoal; they should not harass our soldiers when they bring supplies or repair facilities like runways.]

A rusty old ship is the country's outpost in the Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, located a hundred nautical miles from Palawan.

Malacañang meanwhile, recently defended the government's construction and repairs on Pag-asa Island in the contested Spratlys.

Cayetano mentioned a few of China's red lines, including that uninhabited islands must not be inhabited, and that countries should not embarrass each other during multilateral and bilateral talks for the whole world to see.

China wants talks, Cayetano said.