President Rodrigo Duterte (MNS Photo)

MANILA, May 7 (Mabuhay) –For Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the critics of the government can only  choose between negotiating or going to war with China to address the tensions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

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

“If I were the President, I will ask them. That’s the only thing we can do there, negotiate, tell them that it’s ours,” he added.

Sotto claimed that the 2016 arbitral ruling did not direct China to leave and give the territory to the Philippines.

“Sinasabi lang doon na ang Pilipinas ay may pag-aari doon, may stake doon. Parang ganoon e pero wala akong nakikitang sinabi ng tribunal na dapat lisanin ng China at ibigay sa Pilipinas yung ibang area don. Parang ganon. I’m sure ganoon ‘yung dating ng Presidente,” Sotto said when asked about President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement that the arbitral ruling is just paper fit to be thrown in the trash.

In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s legal basis for its expansive claim before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, and won the case in a landmark award in 2016 after the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s assertions.

China rejected the ruling, saying its claims have historical basis and are “indisputable.”

Sotto also acknowledged the activities of Philippine Coast Guard in the WPS. On Wednesday, Chinese militia vessels moored at Sabina Shoal inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone dispersed after being challenged by the PCG.

“Okay yung ginagawa ng Coast Guard na ganoon, as long as there is no armed conflict. Now, if they instigate an armed conflict, then the Mutual Defense Treaty kicks in,” he said.

Sotto tagged the MDT with the United States as a sword of Damocles which the Philippines can use.

The Philippines filed a series of protests against China for its refusal to order the withdrawal of Chinese vessels from the Julian Felipe Reef or Whitsun Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

Manila vowed to file diplomatic protests every day until all Chinese ships leave the area.

Around 160 Chinese vessels were spotted in Philippine waters, the Department of Foreign Affairs said, noting that their lingering presence “blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.” (MNS)

READ NEXT: AFP proposes to build structures in West Philippine Sea