The Philippines will not go to war over the Scarborough Shoal even if it wins the arbitration case it filed against China's excessive claims in the disputed South China Sea, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte told business leaders on Tuesday.
In his first speaking engagement in weeks, Duterte even expressed an apparent disagreement with the Philippines joining US' patrols in the disputed waters supposedly to press freedom of navigation in the area.
"Kung nandiyan na 'yung aircraft carrier sa South China Sea na 'yan, patrolling, and the Americans would say, 'Come join us in our expedition,' ah, sorry," Duterte said while waving his hand.
"I will not go to war because of the Scarborough Shoal lang," he added.
Duterte said that if the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines and its 200-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he'd only send civilian coast guard vessels.
He said he already told US Ambassador Philip Goldberg of this plan when they met in Davao City recently.
"Sabi niya, 'What do you intend to do?' If there's the arbitral judgment, I will go there, coast guard lang. Hindi pang giyera 'yan. You guard the coast, that's coast guard," Duterte said.
"Kung magpadala ako ang navy diyan, a kalokohan 'yan.... We are not in a position. That's a massacre," he added.
‘Not a territorial issue’
Duterte said the Scarborough Shoal wasn't a territorial issue.
"It is an issue of our exclusivity sa economic zone. That you place there obstructions that will impede or obstruct our right to develop and fish anywhere there, 'yun ang contention," Duterte said.
"That is our ache but that is not a thing to just say we will go to war," he added.
Duterte said that the Philippines would be better off solving the insurgency that has kept development from happening particularly in Mindanao.
"We are better off solving the internal problem first.... Then we can open up tourism and investment," Duterte said.
"Maraming isda diyan sa Tawi-tawi. They are dying of boredom. Naghihintay lang sila," he added.
Duterte said the money the Aquino administration used to buy 12 FA-50 fighter jets could have been used instead to buy helicopters with night vision capability.
"Sayang ang pera doon. You can't use it for anti-insugency which is the problem of the moment. You can only use it only for ceremonial fly-bys," Duterte said.
Duterte said choppers with night vision could have been used to run after Abu Sayyaf Group bandits who kidnapped foreigners and a Filipino woman recently in Davao del Norte.
He indicated that the Philippines could not match China's air force.
"[Beyond] that Scarborough Shoal, anak ng jueteng, according to the intelligence, there are 300 MIGs (fighter jets) there, which can reach Manila in six minutes," Duterte said.
"Why would I go to war? Ang battle ground mo Palawan? Loko-loko ka pala eh. If you want to do battle sa San Francisco, okay lang," he added.
‘Are you with us?’
Duterte said he asked Goldberg if the superpower US would indeed side with the Philippines if an armed conflict erupted in the region.
"Are you with us or are you not with us?" Duterte said.
"Sabi niya, 'Only if you are attacked'," he added.
"The law of the sea gives us exclusive rights sa 200 kilometers. If I go there, will that be an attack against China...? Mabuti na iyang prangkahan," Duterte said. —Trisha Macas/NB, GMA News