President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday claimed that he had told Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that the territories disputed by the two nations belonged to the Philippines.
In a speech in Iloilo, Duterte told a story about making the pronouncements in a meeting with Xi while explaining why he didn't want to go to war with China.
"Ako pumunta ng China. I met President Xi Jinping. Ako at ang Gabinete ko. Ang nandoon si Lorenzana, si Esperon, si Manny Piñol. Sabi ko kay Xi Jinping, 'You know, Mr. President, I know that you are constructing many things there. I will go to our territory because that is ours.' Ang sinabi ko pa nandiyan man sila lahat, 'I will dig my oil,'" Duterte said.
"Tapos sabi ni Xi Jinping, mag-usap lang tayo. You know, that is ours. Sabi niya, no, we will just wait for the right time to talk about it. 'When is it?' Sabi niya, 'in due time,'" added the President, who has come under fire from critics for what they describe as a chummy relationship with Beijing amid the two countries' sea dispute.
Duterte and Xi met for bilateral talks last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Serving as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the time, Duterte said he brought up the organization's worry about Chinese militarization in the disputed territories.
In Iloilo, Duterte sought to explain to the audience that he didn't want the Philippines dragged into a war led by the United States, which has previously expressed concern over the freedom of navigation implications of China's claims in the South China Sea.
"Ang problema ang Amerikano nagalit. So pinahirapan niya ‘yung mga… Alam mo ang Amerika on the average mabuting tao, mabuting kausap. Pero ‘yung policy ng Amerika damay nang damay. Ngayon kung saan-saang giyera. This time sabihin ko sa kanila, 'No more. I will not allow the deployment of my countrymen.' Kasi minsan tayo ang inuudyok diyan sa South China Sea," said Duterte.
China has denied US charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Duterte, who has been courting Beijing in hopes of winning business and investment.
Last month, the Department of National Defense said it would recommend filing a diplomatic protest if reports are proven true that China has militarized Kagitingan Reef or Fiery Cross.
The reef has a hospital with more than 50 doctors, high-speed mobile connections and an airport with a runway of 3,160 meters (3,456 yards) to serve what Beijing calls a "weather station" equipped with radar, Chinese state media say.
In the last 27 years, China's navy has sent more than 1,000 soldiers to guard the reef, state media have said. —JST, GMA News with a report from Reuters