President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he never promised to "retake" the West Philippine Sea as tensions simmer between Manila and Beijing over reefs and outcrops.
Duterte, in a public address, denied making any promise to assert Manila's claims in the disputed waters when he was campaigning for the presidency back in 2016.
"I never, never in my campaign as President promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea. I did not promise that I would pressure China," he said.
"I never mentioned China and the Philippines in my campaign because it was a very serious matter," he added.
Duterte however did make a remark about Manila's maritime dispute with Beijing while he was campaigning for president in 2016, saying he would ride a jet ski to the Spratlys Group of Islands to assert the Philippines' claim.
In 2018 however, the President reneged on the promise and said it was just a joke.
“Iyong sabi ko mag-jet ski ako doon sa China, kalokohan ‘yun," he said in a spech in Davao City on March 1, 2018.
Throughout his presidency, Duterte has refused to flaunt Manila's victory in a United Nations-backed arbitral court that invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims over the resource-rich waters.
China however has ignored the ruling, and fortified its artificial islands over Philippine reefs. Recently, the lingering presence of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea has put a fresh strain the ties between the two nations.
While the Philippines has filed a series of diplomatic protests, President Duterte on Monday night said "there is no reason for trouble" if Filipino fishermen would just be allowed to fish in the country's own waters.
"Kindly just allow our fishermen to fish in peace and there is no reason for trouble. If there is one brewing, call our attention so we can talk immediately," Duterte told China.
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