Duterte wants China to secure Sulu, Celebes Seas from pirates

Pia Ranada
President Rodrigo Duterte credits China for helping combat piracy in Somalia and hopes the country can do the same thing for the Philippines and Indonesia

TRUSTING CHINA. President Rodrigo Duterte is given a tour inside the Chinese warship Chang Chun in May 2017. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – After Malacañang said the Philippines needs China for research in Benham Rise, President Rodrigo Duterte now says Southeast Asia may need China to secure its waters from pirates and terrorists.

Duterte, on Wednesday, January 24, said he might call on China to help guard the Sulu and Celebes Seas, an area frequently used by terrorists for transit across borders or by pirates who kidnap and hold for ransom the crew of passing ships.

Sasabihin ko sa inyo, kung hindi natin kaya (I will tell you, if we can’t hack it), we’ll just have to call China to come in and blow them off just like [in] Somalia,” said Duterte.

He gave a speech before his flight to India to attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit with other Southeast Asian leaders.

Duterte said that the Sulu and Celebes Seas, in the western and southern part of the Philippines, are “vacant” or lacking in security, allowing pirates and terrorists to freely pass through.

But he praised China for being instrumental in helping Somalia catch pirates in their seas.

“Were it not for the presence of the Chinese, piracy would not have ended there,” said Duterte.

He also complained about international meetings on security, including the one he was about to participate in in India, with Southeast Asian leaders.

Kung ganito lang naman (If this is all there is to it), so what’s the use of meeting just once a year? And probably the ministerial level, once every 3 months. They cannot accomplish anything,” railed Duterte.

The President repeated his preferred mode of dealing with pirates and terrorists plaguing Southeast Asian waters: blow them up.

“I go for a hardline policy. Blow them up in the high seas. Destroy them. Throw canons at them. Otherwise, if we do not do the extreme measures, we’d always be at the mercy of criminals,” he said.

Duterte and Indonesia President Joko Widodo previously agreed to intensify joint efforts to rid their seas of pirates and terror groups. The Sulu and Celebes Seas are between Indonesia and the Philippines.

Some $40 billion worth of cargo aboard ships pass through the two bodies of water every year, according to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.

The firebrand Philippine leader has been turning more and more often to China.

The Duterte administration approved Chinese-led maritime scientific research in Benham Rise, trusting Beijing will go by the rules even as it has ignored an international ruling that affirmed Philippine claim over the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine government also offered to China the lucrative opportunity of helping set up the 3rd telecommunications player in the country.

In return, China has promised grants and loans to help finance the Duterte administration’s infrastructure program. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.