President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines owed China a "huge debt" for vaccines and aid, however he said this should not be the basis for a "compromise" in disputed waters.
The test for Beijing will be its next move in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese militia boats have been locked in a standoff with Philippine ships for weeks, the President said. Last week, he threatened to send navy ships should China drill for oil.
"Malaki utang na loob natin sa China, yung bakuna libre? Mga tulong nila pero sabihin na there are some things in life that cannot be bargained and this is one of them," Duterte said late Wednesday. "Now, tingnan natin kung anong gawin ng China despite of our pleadings for peace, to settle it, ano gawin nila sa mga barko natin nandiyan."
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"China, let it be known, is a good friend and we don't want trouble with them, especially war. But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise gaya ng ginawa mag-atras atras mahirap po yan. Sana they will undertsand but i have also the interest of my country to protect," he said.
Duterte tossed the blame to the Aquino administration, saying that when he assumed office, China had seized control of Philippine reefs and outcrops. It was the Aquino government, led by former Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario, who pursued and won an arbitration case against China before a UN-backed court.
There is nothing "more binding" than the arbitral ruling, Duterte said. However, no country would "go to war" with China to enforce, not even the Philippines' treaty ally, the U.S., he said.
"May decision na ayaw nila sumunod. We are at a loss on how to get back physically in the West Philippine Sea. 'Yan ang problema," he said.
"Bakit noon kailangan na natin ng Amerikano bakit walang barko ng Amerikano pumunta doon?" he said.