Involving the United States in the Philippines’ maritime row with China will only bring the country closer to war, President Rodrigo Duterte said in response to officials pushing to seek American help.
Duterte on Thursday night, June 27 made the remark at Malacañang after Senator Panfilo Lacson insisted on invoking the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), an agreement that was signed in 1951 and recognizes the country as “a treaty ally,” in the latest dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
According to Lacson, the MDT is the Philippines’ “only ‘weapon’ in our arsenal.”
However, Duterte disagreed with the senator’s suggestion as it would push toward more hostility.
“I have to protect the interest of my country, the very life of the Filipino. One hundred ten million. America, bakit ka ba magsabi ng…bakit tawagin mo America? (Why would you call America?) That will all the more bring us to the verge of war,” he said.
Duterte also stressed that the U.S. can only act in case of an armed aggression against the country.
Earlier this month, a Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat carrying 22 fishermen near the Recto Bank, which the president previously called a “little maritime incident.”
Conflicting stories from both the Philippine and Chinese governments about incident have been released. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a Chinese vessel hit and eventually sunk the boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen in the open sea.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy claimed that around seven or eight Filipino fishing boats “besieged” the Chinese vessel, which presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo raised doubts about.
Duterte on Wednesday challenged the U.S., as well as Great Britain and France, to support the Philippines in standing up against China, but still maintained he will not put Filipinos’ lives at stake over the Recto Bank incident.
“This is my challenge, America, Britain, France: let us assemble in Palawan and proceed directly to Spratlys. Let us seize whatever we can seize,” he said during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group at Malacañang.
“If we all perish, they will say ‘Duterte is not protecting the interest of the Filipino people.’ You want me to put the lives of 110 million Filipinos (at risk) by going into trouble? … It’s not the time to go to war… reality – that’s geopolitics,” he added.
The president has reiterated in his past speeches that the Philippines is not ready to go to war against the Asian powerhouse.