President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday raised the question on whether the United States, the Philippines' old military ally, will go to war to defend Manila's interests in the disputed South China Sea.
"Would America risk a third world war just to defend, makuha mo yang Spratly na 'yan?" Duterte said in a speech at the PDP-Laban campaign rally in Batangas City.
The President, however, conceded that a nuclear war will be catastrophic.
"Mag-suicide kaya ang Amerika ng nuclear war para sa atin? Kasi kapag nag nuclear war ubos man tayong lahat sa mundong ito. Russia bitawan niya lahat, bitawan ng China, bitawan ng Britain puro atomic nuclear," he said.
Duterte reiterated that an armed confrontation with China, which boasts a formidable military, is not an option even as he repeated his call for Beijing to lay off Pag-asa Island, which is being surrounded by Chinese vessels suspected to have been boarded by militiamen.
"Ang Pag-asa Island ang sinabi ko huwag ninyong i-surround kasi may mga sundalo ako diyan. Pag nagkamali...Nag-warning lang ako. Hindi ko tinatakot ang China, but it could precipitate trouble there. 'Pag namatayan ako ng sundalo maski isa, gulo na 'yan," he said.
He added the Philippines and China should "meet halfway" on the dispute.
Last month, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a news conference in Manila that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty obligated the US to aid the Philippines if the latter's forces were attacked in the South China Sea.
It was the first time that a US government official from the Trump administration clarified that the South China Sea, where the Philippines and China are locked in years-long territorial row, is covered by the defense pact.
There have been apprehensions that the US might balk at helping the Philippines if its forces were attacked in the West Philippine Sea, an area in the South China Sea being claimed by Manila, because the treaty only referred to “metropolitan" or "island territories" of the Philippines.
Although the US is not a party to the disputes, it has declared in the past that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation, trade and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where a bulk of the world’s trade pass through.
China insists ownership over nearly the entire South China Sea -- a claim debunked by an arbitral tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands in July 2016, shortly after Duterte assumed office.
Duterte set aside the arbitral ruling to forge better ties with China, but vowed to raise it at a proper time during his presidency.
The President will fly to Beijing later this month to attend the second Belt and Road forum where he is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
The Palace said the developments in the South China Sea may be discussed during the meeting but it was not immediately clear whether Duterte will raise the arbitral ruling with Xi. — BAP, GMA News