Duterte doubts military would follow orders to defend West PH Sea

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, June 6, doubted whether the military would follow orders to go on a "suicide" mission to fend off Chinese forces threatening Philippine rights in the West Philippine Sea.

"Madali sabihin 'yan eh. 'Pag sinabi ko 'yan sa military pati pulis, 'Pumunta ka diyan, mag-suicide kayo (It's easy to say that. When I say, military, police, 'Go there and commit suicide).' Do you think they will follow me?" Duterte said.

He was answering media queries during a press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2, upon arrival from an official visit to South Korea.

"If I were the military, I were the general, and you order me to go there, 'Commit suicide, go with your soldiers.' I will say, 'Fuck you. Why do I have to do that?'" said Duterte in a mix of English and Filipino.

His remarks were prompted by a question on diplomatic action taken by the Philippines against China on the Asian giant's acts in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) commander-in-chief, framed any military action against China as a "suicide" mission, given the latter's military might.

"Sinong gago'ng susunod sa iyo (What fool will follow you)? This is an armed forces of service, not suicide," said Duterte.

Fearing a coup d'etat?

Duterte was visibly incensed at "justices" who questioned his soft approach to China in the face of blatant incursions into Philippine rights in the West Philippine Sea.

In an apparent further step to justify his policy towards China, Duterte said he could not be more aggressive as his own soldiers might just unseat him for making the supposedly unwise move of angering Beijing.

"If I do that, I either am inviting trouble within my country or the military and police will oust me. They aren't prepared to commit suicide. You would rather dispense me rather than lose their soldiers unnecessarily and needlessly," said Duterte.

He dangled this possible coup d'etat as a scenario he, and the rest of the country, would do well to avoid.

"Now how many times did the military intervene in this country? Are you sure that this time they will give it back to the civilians?" he said.

Military intervention was crucial in the ouster of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines. The military also backed the ouster of then president Joseph Estrada in 2001. 

The Duterte administration has come under intense criticism for China's aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea despite, or some say because of, Duterte's hand of friendship.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario had urged the government to file a strong diplomatic protest on the landing of Chinese bombers in the Paracel Islands. (READ: Why Philippines should protest Chinese bombers in Paracels)

Though these islands are not claimed by the Philippines, the position of the bombers there puts Manila and key military bases within their combat range.

The Philippines had silently handed China a note verbale which insiders said mentions the installation of missiles in the Spratly Islands and a Chinese navy chopper's alleged harassment of a Philippine Navy rubber boat on May 11. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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