PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he would not allow China to seize Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island even as he maintained his stand not to go to war with Beijing to defend the country’s interests in the South China Sea.
Pag-asa, a 37-hectare island with an airstrip, commercial communications tower, and power generators, is the largest of the Kalayaan Island Group territories claimed by the Philippines and is part of the municipality of Palawan.
“The Pag-asa Island belongs to us. Is that yung base natin? China would never do that, I assure you unless China wants a war with us, eh di ako papayag kung pati yung Pag-asa i-occupy nila,” the President told reporters in Puerto Princesa City.
The President also raised the matter during the PDP-Laban campaign rally that followed.
“Let us be friends but do not touch Pag-asa Island otherwise things would be different,” Duterte said.
“I will not plead or beg I am just telling you that lay off with Pag-asa because may mga sundalo ako dyan at pag ‘yan ang ginalaw ninyo ibang istorya na ‘yan,” he added.
Duterte, however, clarified that this is “not a warning” but “just a word of advice” to China because it is the country’s friend.
Hours before he made the remark, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) came out with a strongly-worded statement slamming the presence of Chinese vessels in waters off Pag-asa Island.
The DFA said the presence of Chinese vessels is illegal and raised questions “about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives.”
About 275 Chinese vessels were spotted near and around Pag-asa, which China calls Zhongye, from January to March this year, according to the Philippine military. China said the vessels are civilian ships, mostly fishing boats.
A senior Philippine diplomat said the diplomatic protest against China’s massive presence in Pag-asa was filed last March 29.
But Duterte said the Chinese “have never harmed or arrested any Filipino.”
“I am sure it has something to do with the greater game of geopolitics. And it is not directed to us. And 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 said, adding he could send suicide missions.
“At ‘pag ‘yan ang ginalaw ninyo, ibang istorya na ‘yan. (And if you touch Pag-asa Island, it would be a different story.) ‘Di sabihin ko na ‘yang mga sundalo ko, “prepare for suicide missions”. (I will tell my soldiers to prepare for suicide missions),” Duterte added.