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Sotto to Duterte's Critics: Negotiate or Go To War With China?

Senate leader defends the President.
by Erwin Colcol
17 hours ago
Photo/s: Philippine Coast Guard via AFP

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday told critics of President Rodrigo Duterte's handling the West Philippine Sea dispute that there are only two ways to approach it -- negotiate with Beijing or go to war.

Sotto was defending the President from fresh criticism after the chief executive likened the Philippines' 2016 victory before a UN-backed arbitration court to a "piece of paper" unless China budges and recognizes the ruling.

"For those who are criticizing the President on his statements, what do you want to do? There are only two things that we can do e --- one, negotiate or two, go to war. Which one do you want?" Sotto told reporters in a video call.

In his recorded address late Wednesday night, the President argued that despite the Philippines' victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the situation in the West Philippine Sea is still dictated by who is more powerful.

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"Sabi nila, itong papel sa kaso, nanalo tayo i-pursue mo. Pinursue ko. Walang nangyari. Actually, sa usapang bugoy sabihin ko yo, 'Bigay mo sa akin,' sabihin ko sa 'yo 'P*****ina, papel lang yan, itatapon ko yan sa waste basket,'" Duterte said.

Asked about his thoughts on the President's remark, Sotto said the arbitral ruling did not specifically direct China to leave the disputed territories. The court has no police powers.

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"Sinasabi lang doon na ang Pilipinas ay may pag-aari doon, may stake doon. Parang ganun e. Pero wala akong nakikitang sinabi ng tribunal na dapat lisanin ng China at ibigay sa Pilipinas yung ibang area doon," he said.

The President's statement, however, does not take away from the efforts of the Department of National Defense to assert Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, Sotto said. Both Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. have repeatedly told Chinese vessels to leave.

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"It’s just his way of saying na itong mga nagpipintas dito ay hindi rin alam yung talagang tunay na mga nangyayari. Siguro parang ganun yung sinasabi niya because as long as sumusunod tayo sa UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), edi okay tayo," he added.

Duterte also earlier said the Philippines owed China a "huge debt" over the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the country, but this should not cause a "compromise" on the disputed territories.

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