Duterte won't withdraw PH ships from West Philippine Sea amid China row

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 14) — The Philippines will not be pulling its vessels out of the West Philippine Sea amid China's incursions in the area, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

"We have a stand here and I want to state it here and now again: na yung mga barko natin, nandyan ngayon sa Pag-asa at saan pa [that our shops there in Pag-asa Island and elsewhere] we will not move an inch backward," said the chief executive in the second part of his public address televised by state-run network PTV on Friday.

The country has two ships in West Philippine Sea according to Duterte, which are roving around the Kalayaan Island Group and Mischief Reef as reported by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

"Hindi talaga ako aatras. Patayin mo man ako kung patayin mo man ako, dito ako. Dito magtatapos ang ating pagkakaibigan," said the President as he addressed China.

[Translation: I will not back down. Kill me if you want to kill me, I will be here. Our friendship will end here.]

Duterte has been consistently criticized for his friendly attitude towards the East Asian giant, even as it continues to reject the 2016 landmark arbitral ruling affirming Manila's sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. China's vessels also remain in the West Philippine Sea, despite a string of diplomatic protests lodged by the Foreign Affairs Department.

Just this Thursday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ordered the filing of another diplomatic protest against China after 287 of its Chinese ships were seen to have remained scattered over various areas in Kalayaan, Palawan. 

"Ayaw kong makipag-away sa China, ayoko sa lahat. Inuulit ko, may utang na loob kami, malaki…pero yung ano naman ng bayan namin, sana maintindihan ninyo. Kung hindi ninyo maintindihan, magkakaroon talaga kayo ng problema," said Duterte.

[Translation: I really don't want to fight with China. I repeat, we have a huge debt of gratitude. But I hope you understand (the interest) of our nation. If not, there will really be a problem.]

"Please understand because these things are what's supposed to be done by any president of any self-respecting republic," he further explained.

Duterte earlier drew flak for saying his promise in 2016 to ride a jet ski to the West Philippine Sea and plant the Philippine flag there to assert the country's rights was a "pure campaign joke."