Duterte tells China to lay-off Pag-asa Island, suggests 'compromise'

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 4) — President Rodrigo Duterte had this message to China: lay off Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island or things will be different. But he later on suggested a compromise on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the country's territory.

"I'm trying to tell China: 'Yung Pag-asa is ours. We have been there since 1974. Kung inyo 'yan, bakit hindi ninyo pinaalis kami? [If that's yours, why didn't you drive us away?]," Duterte said at the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino - Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) campaign sortie on Thursday evening.

"Let us be friends, but do not touch Pag-asa Island and the rest," added Duterte, who has maintained friendly ties with China in contrast to frosty relations during the time of his predecessor. "'Pag 'yan ang ginalaw ninyo, ibang istorya na 'yan. Sabihin ko sa mga sundalo ko, 'Prepare for suicide mission.'"

[Translation: If you make moves there, that's a different story. I will tell my soldiers, 'Prepare for suicide mission'.]

However, after his speech, he said he'd rather go into a compromise instead of going into an all-out war with the East Asian giant.

"It's not 'no need (to drive them away).' We go into a compromise for the time being. If we go to war or there is a violent conflict, we would never win and I would suffer beyond imagination. I would just go there and send my soldiers and policemen to be slaughtered. I am not prepared to do that," he said.

He said that his approach against China will change once they harm Filipinos.

"I said that is part of the conflict because they have gobbled up the whole of China Sea. Para sa kanila, kanila 'yan. So they feel free to roam around and do whatever, but they actually never harmed or arrested any Filipino. I am sure that it has something to do with the greater game of geopolitics and it is not directed to us. And I assure you that if they kill or arrest people there who are Filipinos, then that would be the time that we will have to decide on what to do," he said.

The military said around 275 ships have swarmed around Pag-asa Island, the seat of the Kalayaan government in Palawan, from January to March.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday the swarming of the hundreds of vessels is illegal, and that the Chinese government is considered adopting these actions if it does not renounce them. 

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua has assured they were fishing vessels and were unarmed.

Duterte earlier said China has not asked for anything in exchange for its help to the Philippines, and that the East Asian country just wants to be friends.

But the President clarified he is not warning China -- only giving advice.

"This is not a warning; this is just a word of advice to my friends, kasi kaibigan tayo ng China [since we are China's friend]. So nakikiusap ako [I ask of you]. I will not plead or beg, but I'm just telling you that lay off the Pag-asa because may mga sundalo ako diyan [I have soldiers there]." he said.

Duterte still hit the United States and former President Benigno Noynoy Aquino over Chinese activities in the South China Sea, saying they had the power to stop the militarization and reclamation in their time.

The government is currently repairing and improving structures on the island, including a runway. The island is part of the Spratly Island group, the subject of an ongoing maritime disputes among claimants China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.