PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, July 17, called on the United States to deploy its Seventh Fleet to the hotly-contested South China Sea, as he invoked the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between Manila and Washington.
Duterte's appeal for the presence of US troops in the disputed sea came amid the heightened tensions between the Philippines and China following the June 9 allision of Filipino and Chinese boats at Recto (Reed) Bank.
"They have been saying that there is a treaty between America and Philippines. RP (Republic of the Philippines)-US pact, military pact. An attack of one is an attack of all against all American forces. But there is that condition, and that if there is a violent attack in our country, para sa kanila rin (it's also an attack in their country)," he said in a television interview.
"I'm calling now. Now, I'm calling now America. I am invoking the RP-US pact, and I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I'm asking them now and I will join them, and I will ride on the boat where the admiral of the US [is there]," he added.
The Seventh Fleet, a military formation of the US Navy based in Yokosuka, Japan, is the largest forward-deployed US fleets with roughly 70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and 20,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel.
The President's latest pronouncement apparently heeded the call for the invocation of 68-year-old defense pact between the Philippines and the US to avert further hostilities in the South China Sea.
Manila and the Washington signed the MDT on August 31, 1951, in a bid to boost the defense and security cooperation between the two nations.
The peace and security in the busy waterway were put to test anew after a Chinese vessel rammed, sank, and abandoned a Filipino fishing boat carrying 22 crew at Recto Bank, which is located within the Philippines 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The 22 fishermen aboard the sunken boat were rescued by a passing Vietnamese ship.
While worried over possible grave repercussions of war with China, Duterte said he was now ready to deploy the Philippine troops in the disputed waters.
"Actually, their (China's) missiles now can reach Manila in seven minutes. Do you want to fight?" he said.
"Ako naman (For me), I’m tired of you know parrying the [claim] takot ako (that I am afraid). Sabihin ko, sige (I will tell them that fine), I will mobilize my forces. I will gather the best of my soldiers there. Marines, police, lahat (All of the marines and police)," he added.
Duterte's supposed negligence to stop China's activities in the Philippine waters has earned the ire of his critics.
He, however, explained that he has to give China the right to carry out fishing activities in the Philippines's EEZ, as he alone could not impose sanctions on Beijing.
"Kasi tayo ang kawawa ngayon, kay kung hindi tayo magpasok doon, invoking fishing rights, we cannot fish there. That is how constricted these guys are... I will not only be able to protect the fishes and the butete, and the danggits (toads and the spinefootfish), I will blow this entire nation to pieces," Duterte said.
"If I go to war? Ah wala (We will lose). No match. Not our fault. That's the problem. Itong sabi nila na (Then they said) that I committed a constitutional consecration, tapos (then) they want to impeach me. Really?" he added. (SunStar Philippines)