Straight-Shooting Mayor Duterte Eyed By U.S. In South China Sea Standoff

Straight-shooting Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, known for speaking his mind regardless of criticism, has admitted to being sought by the United States embassy in Manila for clarification on his South China Sea position. His stated willingness to engage in maritime exploration with China as long as it does not infringe on Philippine territorial ownership, has sparked much debate.

During a campaign sortie in Antipolo City on Monday, March 7, 2016, he kept the record straight on his South China Sea stance as previously spelled out at a Go Negosyo elections forum on Thursday, February 4. Rather than resort to a shooting war, presidential candidate Mayor Duterte is offering China the following option, as quoted by Inquirer.

“We cannot defeat you. We will be pulverized if we go to war. So I will just tell them, ‘If you want to talk, let’s talk. Or you might just want to open this as a mutual corridor and I will be willing to talk to you if there is oil and gas. Let us do it joint exploration.'”

Mayor Duterte the negotiator
Mayor Duterte would rather talk trade with China [Photo via Facebook]

The Philippines is following a straight and narrow path under a constitution that refutes war as an instrument of national policy. Its reliance on old-time treaty partner U.S. shooting down hostile designs on Philippine national sovereignty has been one of the mayor’s chief concerns.

Meanwhile, according to Philstar, China has gone straight back into seizing Philippine territory, this time Quirino or Jackson Atoll where Filipinos have fished for decades. The ring-shaped coral reef, 140 nautical miles west of Palawan, is reportedly guarded by five Chinese ships to keep local fishermen at bay by shooting water cannons at them. Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. of Kalayaan town in Palawan claims the Chinese presence at Quirino Atoll has been there for more than a month now.

Sightings of gray and white Chinese vessels straight through February and early March have caused Filipino fishermen to stay beyond shooting range of the atoll they call Jackson Five because of its five lagoons. The fishermen’s plight and the Chinese threat to the Philippine marine environment are red flags raised by the Kalayaan mayor with the press as he keeps an eye on offshore goings-on.

Pundits are referring to the Quirino Atoll seizure as straight off an invasion playbook, being the third incident of that nature after Mischief Reef (part of the Spratlys) in 1994 and the Scarborough Shoal (not part of the Spratlys) in 2012. Shooting for support abroad, Mayor Bito-onon flew to San Francisco in late 2015 to share with Bay Area Filipino community leaders what it is like to be at the frontline of a creeping invasion.

While the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague attempts to resolve the claim that China is trespassing into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (E.E.Z.), straight-shooting Mayor Duterte sees no movement.

“It has created a hiatus. The talks are not moving and it is in still waters. And China is adding structures day to day. Something has to give there.”

Filipinos rally against invasion
Mayor Duterte will not let his people down as he parlays with China [Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images]

According to Rappler, Duterte’s willingness to engage in straight talk with China about cooperation does not mean he is shooting down Philippine territorial ownership. The Davao City mayor spoke to China of a “margin” he will not cross at the elections forum on February 4.

“I cannot talk beyond this margin. And my predicate, whether you believe it or not, I’m not forcing you to believe, what you have built there is within our territory. It is illegal.”

The straight-shooting mayor’s non-negotiable defense of Philippine sovereignty drew applause from the crowd. The same stand seems to have aroused the curiosity of treaty partner U.S., which has invested millions of dollars in troops and materiel to protect Filipino interests.

[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]