President Rodrigo Duterte on Independence Day said he wanted to visit the West Philippine Sea as a civilian after he leaves Malacañang, emphasizing the need to assert "what is ours".
The outgoing leader expressed his desire to join the Philippine Coast Guard in venturing to the West Philippine Sea once he returns to private life, noting that such a visit would not have any ramifications.
"Someday I could maybe ride with the Coast Guard to see...It does not have any ramifications because civilian na ako," Duterte said during the commissioning of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship BRP Melchora Aquino in Manila.
"And I could maybe ride with you diyan sa West Philippine Sea. It is a gamble," he added.
Duterte, who has sought warmer ties with China, said he has clarified to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that "we cannot give up sovereignty over the waters" including the exclusive economic zone because "it’s vital for our national life" but also conceded that "we cannot afford fighting with China".
"I made it clear to him, giklaro ko lang sa kanya na we cannot give up sovereignty over the waters sa Philippine Sea, including the exclusive economic zone because it’s vital for our national life. The population is growing and we have to keep pace," Duterte said.
The West Philippine Sea is Manila's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in near entirety.
In 2016, the Philippines won an arbitration case initiated by the late president Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III that invalidated China's sweeping claims over the resource-rich waterway.
China has chosen to ignore the ruling, ramping up its militarization in the disputed waters.
Duterte expressed hopes that the maritime dispute with China "can be sorted out by just talking" noting that Filipinos "will suffer" if it escalates into an armed conflict.
"We cannot afford fighting with China. We cannot win and we will lose and the population will suffer. The Filipino nation would be in a very tight situation, a quandary of how to go about I said navigating the geopolitical issues in Europe and here, Taiwan," he said.
"Ako, I am praying that this can be sorted out by just talking. There’s really no need to kill a human being," he added.
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