RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (UPDATED) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte canceled his plan to raise the Philippine flag on a disputed island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Independence Day, June 12.
"It is not in my country, but I would like to correct myself along the way here. I said I will go to the island of Kalayaan, Pag-asa, on June 12, to raise the Filipino flag there," Duterte said, referring to the town of Kalayaan in the disputed Spratly Group of Islands.
Duterte was addressing around 2,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the Riyadh Marriott Hotel on Wednesday, April 12 (Thursday, April 13 in Manila), the second and last day of his state visit to Saudi Arabia.
When Duterte mentioned his plan to raise the Philippine flag on Kalayaan, the crowd applauded but he stopped them, saying he was not finished talking.
"China sent word, 'Please do not do that,'" Duterte continued.
He said China fears that other claimant countries in the South China Sea might do the same thing.
The President said China told him, "If every head of state of the contending parties there in the West Philippine Sea – they call it the South China Sea – will go there to plant their flags, there will be likely trouble."
Duterte cites 'friendship with China'
"So because of our friendship with China, and because we value your friendship, I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag. Maybe I'll send my son," Duterte said.
"Ibig sabihin, kadugo ko na ang nand'yan, amin 'yan," he explained. (That means my relative is already there, so that is ours.)
"China said, 'Well, in the meantime, just do not go there. Please?' I said, 'Yes, I will correct myself because we value the friendship of China,'" Duterte recounted.
Duterte earlier said that in the upcoming Independence Day, "I might, I may go to Pag-asa Island to raise the flag there." He also told the military to occupy disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario had criticized the President last Tuesday, April 11, for saying he "can sell" disputed islands to China if the Philippines gets "very rich."
But Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella downplayed Duterte's remarks as "a lighthearted way of saying that we're friends" with China. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.