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Gather fleet vs China, Duterte prods US

July 18, 2019

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday prodded the United States to prepare its fleet for a faceoff with China amid the Philippines’ territorial row with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“I’m calling now America. I’m invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I’m asking them now. I will join them,” Duterte said during an interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

President Rodrigo Duterte. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It was the second time the President declared that he was invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which the US and the Philippines signed in 1951.

The Seventh Fleet, part of the US Pacific Fleet, is stationed in Japan.

The President said he would join the US forces in challenging China.

“I will ride on the boat where [the] admiral of the US [is]. But I will drag along this Carpio and the rest, Albert. When the Americans say, ‘We’re here now, ready,’ I will press it,” Duterte said.

He was referring to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who have criticized his policy on the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte, however, warned that a shooting war would devastate Palawan.

“Maybe that would be the end of Palawan. Palawan may be devastated, maybe occupied or if there will be nuclear bombs, it will dry up. So nothing will grow here, we can just wait, just like a big hole coming our way, to suck us to eternity,” he said.

Duterte’s statement came days after he told The Manila Times that he was ready to join the US should the country’s long-time ally declare war with China to stop its intrusion in the West Philippine Sea.

Under the MDT, the Philippines and the US committed to defend each other in the event of an armed attack in the Pacific.

On Tuesday, the Philippines and the US reaffirmed their alliance by signing an agreement to expand areas of defense and maritime cooperation.

Among these are improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, and increasing mutual communication and coordination on operational elements of regional security.

Both sides also said they would plan a range of activities to improve maritime domain awareness.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the two countries were in talks to “strengthen” the decades-old treaty and that this might be taken up in a scheduled meeting in September.

Washington’s top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, previously vowed that US would secure and defend the Philippines in case of an attack.

Suggestions to invoke the MDT arose over the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel near the Recto Bank last month.

Duterte had repeatedly said that the Philippines has no capability to go to war with China or enforce the ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal dismissing China’s claims in the disputed sea based on its nine-dash line policy.

“I’ve been frank; I cannot win a war with China. Pero kung gustuhin nila (But if they want to), I’m putting China on advice, I’m awaiting word from the United States that if they’re willing to go to war to drive you, then I will do it,” Duterte said.

The President earlier dared the US to “fire the first shot” at the Chinese in the disputed waters.

Since assuming the presidency, Duterte had sought to downplay Manila’s maritime dispute with Beijing in exchange for improved ties with the world’s second largest economy.

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