Duterte on sea row with China: No war, just ‘diplomatic endeavors’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated he cannot go to war against Beijing over the South China Sea dispute, calling himself "inutile" in that aspect.

During his fifth State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte addressed criticisms on his supposed inaction on the maritime row.

"Alam mo (You know), unless we are prepared to go to war, I would suggest that we better just call off and treat this, I said, with diplomatic endeavors," Duterte said as he veered away from his prepared speech.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including areas Manila calls the West Philippine Sea. Beijing continues to reject the Philippines' 2016 arbitration win, wherein an international tribunal in The Hague recognized Manila's sovereign rights to some areas within its exclusive economic zone.

Duterte, however, said China is "in possession of the property," apparently referring to some areas that China currently occupies, including Scarborough Shoal – which the Philippines lost to Chinese forces in a controversial standoff.

"So what can we do? We have to go to war. And I cannot afford it. Maybe some other President can, but I cannot. Inutil ako diyan, sabihin ko sa inyo and I'm willing to admit it. Talagang inutil ako diyan. Wala akong magawa," Duterte said.

[Translation: So what can we do? We have to go to war. And I cannot afford it. Maybe some other President can, but I cannot. I am inutile in that aspect, I am telling you and I'm willing to admit it. I am really inutile about that. I cannot do anything.]

Duterte stressed that government troops will be wiped out in battle since the country does not have the resources to take on China.

"China is claiming it. We are claiming it. China has the arms, we do not have it. So, it's simple as that," Duterte said.

Critics, including former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, have repeatedly said they are not asking for a war with China.

In a virtual conference on the anniversary of the Philippines' arbitration win, Del Rosario said that seeking to hold China accountable for its "atrocities" and incursions in the West Philippine Sea is not tantamount to waging a war against the East Asian giant.

Del Rosario is calling on the Duterte government to raise the arbitral ruling in the United Nations General Assembly in September, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin again rejected his proposal, reiterating that the Philippines and China have "agreed to disagree" on the landmark decision.

READ: Locsin won’t raise arbitral ruling in UN assembly: ‘We won it already, why relitigate?’

Political analyst Julio Teehankee also supported the calls for the Duterte government to assert the country’s 2016 arbitral ruling victory in its claims in the West Philippine Sea.

“It was a big puzzle especially for a President who projects a strongman image. If he had given the same bluster he demonstrated this afternoon towards Senator (Franklin) Drilon and towards the Chinese in regards to the West Philippine Sea, I am sure we will be better off,” Teehankee told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Monday.

Teehankee lamented the President’s “surrender” to China in his fifth SONA, saying that other countries with less military capacity than China continue to assert their rights in the heavily-disputed body of water.

“It’s actually disheartening because as we all know, the President is supposed to be our chief foreign policy maker and our chief cheerleader in the international arena,” he added.