Senate President Vicente Sotto III. (PRIB file photo)

MANILA, Philippines — Negotiate or go to war with China? Senate President Vicente Sotto III posed this question to those people critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s stand on the country’s maritime dispute with China.

“What do we want to do? For those who are criticizing the President for his statements, what do you want to do? There are only two things that we can do. One, negotiate or two, go to war. Which one do you want?” Sotto said in an online interview with reporters when sought for comment on the matter.

“You know if I were the President, I will ask them. I will ask these critics eh, ano gusto ninyo sa dalawa [what do you choose]? Negotiate or go to war? That’s the only thing we can do there ‘di ba? Negotiate. Tell them that it’s ours,” he added.

The Philippines earlier bolstered its presence in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after over 200 Chinese vessels believed to be manned by China’s maritime militia personnel were spotted at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea last March.

The presence of these vessels in the said reef and other Chinese maritime assets in different parts of the West Philippine Sea triggered numerous diplomatic protests against Beijing.

Amid this latest rift between Manila and Beijing, Duterte said the Philippines cannot go to war with its “good friend” China.

“For the record, we do not want war with China. China is a good friend. We owed it a big debt of gratitude, among others for the vaccines [it has donated to us],” Duterte said, speaking partly in Filipino, in a pre-recorded briefing last April 28.

Nevertheless, he noted that despite the friendship with China, “there are things which are not really subject to a compromise.”

Meanwhile, Sotto said that efforts being taken by the Department of National Defense in defending the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea will not be diminished even as the President seemed to have downplayed the Philippines’ win against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

“Wala akong nakikitang sinabi ng tribunal na dapat lisanin ng China at ibigay sa Pilipinas yung ibang area don eh. Parang ganon yung, I’m sure ganoon yung dating [sa] Presidente [I did not see the Tribunal saying China should leave and give the other area there to the Philippines],” the senator said. (Click here to read more…)