By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

CHINA’s military buildup in the disputed waters of the South China Sea was made possible by US fears over the Asian power, Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Sunday night.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Agusan del Norte, Mr. Duterte narrated that then foreign affairs secretary Albert F. Del Rosario had negotiated with the United States regarding China’s trespassing the West Philippine Sea, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“He (Mr. Del Rosario) was the only one who negotiated,” Mr. Duterte said. “But America was scared. They knew that a war about something so small is not worth it. Because if they hit us and America decides to help, it could trigger a world war. America knows it. Everybody does.”

“America said, ‘Both of you should retreat.’ Del Rosario (sic) ordered our ship to retreat, but China refused to follow. That is why they filed a case,” Mr. Duterte continued.

“America did not do anything. Now it’s almost complete. It looks like a real camp. They have guns. They want me to visit it. It’s fine, it can be done just to show off. But we would all be destroyed. My soldiers and my policemen will be massacred. We can’t defeat them. So let’s stick to just talking unless you want me to say, ‘O sige (Okay), I’ll attack China. Who’s with me?’”

Sought for comment, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Marlon M. Villarin said in a phone message: “President Duterte made this statement to make a stand on issues that he will be bringing before the Belt and Road Forum. For me, it is high time for the administration to bring up this issue….”

“This is also an indicator that the President, despite China’s stubbornness, still wants to resolve the issue diplomatically. He also shows readiness to face the Chinese government in a legal battle,” he added.

Mr. Duterte blamed Mr. Del Rosario and former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III for failing to stop China’s encroachment of the West Philippine Sea.

“Aquino and del Rosario are hounding me about the arbitral ruling….So why did they not go there (Scarborough Shoal) when China situated their ship there?” he said.

“We lost it during the Scarborough standoff…. They were building [islands] over the years while the [arbitration] case was [being] heard in the arbitral court.”