By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
After China expressed it really owned Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea to explain its constant military presence there, President Duterte vowed to deploy soldiers on a “suicide mission” if Chinese troops take over the island and seize it from the Filipinos residing there.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang pronounced ownership of Pag-asa in the group of islands comprising the Spratlys when China came under attack for maintaining hundreds of vessels that intimidate Filipino fishermen.
This became the essence of the complaint filed against China with International Criminal Court by former Philippine officials.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated that the Spratlys belong to China after Duterte asked China to lay off Pag-asa, the largest of nine Philippine-controlled islets in the disputed West Philippine Sea. China said the entire island chain has been Chinese territory for thousands of years as supported by “sufficient historical and legal basis.”
Duterte’s written response reads: “I’m trying to tell China, ‘yung Pag-asa is ours. We have been there since 1974. Kung inyo ‘yan, bakit hindi ninyo pinaalis kami?
So, let us be friends but do not touch Pag-asa Island and the rest. Otherwise, things would be different.
“I am not — this is not a warning, this is just a word of advice to my friends, kasi kaibigan tayo ng China. So, nakikiusap ako. I will not plead or beg but I’m just telling you to lay off the Pag-asa because may mga sundalo ako diyan,” Duterte added.
China’s claim brought to fore the arbitral tribunal ruling that upheld the Philippines’ exclusive rights over the whole West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. assured that the government will “never abandon” the arbitral tribunal ruling that upheld the country’s exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
“We will never abandon the Hague decision nor concede an inch of the reefs taken from us. No and never,” Locsin said in a tweet.
However, Locsin added: “But do we want to cut (ourselves) off from this rising economic dynamo without parallel in speed and scale in world history?” This is the same sentiment that stops Duterte short of getting confrontational with China.
The presence of Chinese ships near Pag-asa Island may be discussed during Duterte’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month, Malacañang said as it claimed that the Philippine leader had “effectively” invoked the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea when he asked Beijing to lay off the Philippine-occupied island.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said it would be up to Duterte to decide whether to assert the ruling during his meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. But Panelo expressed belief that the issue would be raised because it is “hot.”
While it remains unsure whether Duterte would mention the arbitral decision during his meeting with Xi, Panelo claimed the President had “effectively” invoked the ruling when he asked China not to touch Pag-asa.
“Effectively his previous statement, earlier, when he said, ‘do not touch our property and if you do any harm to our soldiers, we will respond in kind.’ That effectively made a very strong assertion of sovereignty and statement relative to the arbitral ruling,” Panelo said.
Reports said hundreds of Chinese vessels have been swarming Pag-asa since January. The island community is within the Kalayaan Island Group and is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Earlier this month, Duterte said he would not allow China to occupy Pag-asa island, the largest of the nine islets controlled by the Philippines in the disputed Spratlys region.
“The Pag-asa island belongs to us. Is that our base? China would never do that, I assure you unless China wants a war with us,” the President said in an earlier interview.
“I assure you that if they kill or arrest people there who are Filipinos, then that would be the time that we will have to decide on what to do,” he added.