Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his response to the Recto Bank situation by saying he’s not afraid of China, but rather the possibility of an armed conflict in the region.
His explanation comes after critics have slammed him for not taking a harder stance on what he called “a little maritime incident” — during which a Chinese vessel rammed into a Filipino fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea — given that he has never hesitated to condemn other countries and foreign entities on controversies before.
“That is an open confrontation, magkabarilan pa (there would be a gun battle). Hindi ako takot sa China. Takot ako na baka walang kalaban-laban tayo at baka tayo ang maubos (I’m not afraid of China. I am afraid that we might turn out to be helpless and just get wiped out),” the president told reporters on Thursday, June 20 before leaving for a summit with Southeast Asian leaders in Thailand.
Duterte added that the United States “has the right to interfere if it becomes a bloody confrontation.” Other government officials previously said that the Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S. wouldn’t be applicable in the Recto Bank situation since it was not an armed attacked.
The president went on to say that the incident is “not a matter of sovereignty” since it did not happen on Philippine land itself.
Following the crash, Duterte described the Recto Bank collision as a “little maritime incident” that requires further investigation. Malacañang on Thursday said he is open to a joint Philippines-China inquiry into the boat sinking.
In a text message, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said: “The president welcomes a joint investigation and an early resolution of the case. We will await a formal communication from the Chinese Embassy.”
The statement is in response to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang who said that to find a proper solution, he is suggesting “a joint investigation at an early date so the two sides can exchange respective initial findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations based on mutually-recognized investigation results.”
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, during a June 17 Cabinet cluster meeting, also suggested a joint investigation by the two countries. However, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. dismissed the suggestion, tweeting that “a joint investigation trenches on each other’s sovereignty.”
The Palace also said that it would wait for an investigation to collect “established facts” before it starts to demand reparation for the 22 Filipino fishermen abandoned by the Chinese vessel after hitting their boat.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday told reporters that the incident was “just an accident, based on the information that we got from some of the crew.”
“For me, the tensions have already gone down because what really happened is not being revealed. So I ask our countrymen to be patient because the truth will come out once we get all the information so that we can move on from this,” he added.