PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Thursday said the government should seek a compromise with China over the Philippine’s Pag-asa Island, saying the country would never win if it went to war over it.

Mr. Duterte stressed though that he will never allow Beijing to touch the island, which is part of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan.

“I assure you, unless China wants a war with us, eh ’di ako papayag kung pati ’yung Pag-asa i-occupy nila (I will not agree that they occupy even Pag-asa). No, of course not,” the President said in a televised interview with reporters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on Thursday night.

“We go into a compromise for the time being…. If we go to war or there is a violent conflict, we would never win and I would suffer beyond imagination. I would just go there send my soldiers and policemen to be slaughtered. I am not prepared to do that,” he added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a statement saying “the presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa (Island) and other maritime features in the KIG (Kalayaan Islands Group) is illegal.”

Mr. Duterte said, “We say it’s ours because of the economic zone that is given to us. Then they say it’s part of their territory. That’s why there is a conflict not only with us but with the peripheral countries around China Sea.”

The DFA clarified the island is “an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (AFP-WesCom) confirmed recently that it spotted at least 275 Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island.

“Moreover, it has been observed that Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods — what is commonly referred to as ‘swarming’ tactics — raising questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives,” DFA further said.

For his part, the President said: “And I assure you that if they kill or arrest people there who are Filipinos, then that would be the time that we will have to decide on what to do.” — Arjay L. Balinbin