By Deighton Acuin and Archie Villaflores

PHOTO: Manila Bulletin

President Rodrigo Duterte said it could be ill-afford to confront China as the Philippines would not be able to handle.

Duterte made the remark during the inspection ceremony of air assets from United States, Brazil, and Poland on Friday.

"I cannot be brave in the mouth against China because we are avoiding any confrontation that would lead to something that we can hardly afford, at least, at this time,” Duterte said.

Duterte repeated the remarks that he had been saying since he assumed the presidential office in 2016, weeks after the country filed a protest against the new Chinese law authorizing the Chinese Coast Guard to shoot foreign vessels in its claimed territories.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed concern that the law could only lead to “open conflict” In the region.

Among the aircraft inspected were one unit of C-130H, six units of S70i Blackhawk Utility Helicopters, six units of A-29B Super Tucanos, six units of Hermes 900 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and four units of Hermes 450 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Duterte did not mention the West Philippine Sea dispute, but the government was heavily criticized over the Chief Executive’s refusal to condemn the aggression of China against Filipino fishermen in the sea.

Critics and maritime and international law experts professor Jay Batongbcal as well as retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio have been warning the Duterte administration that shelving the country’s July 2016 unprecedented legal victory before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will undermine the Philippines' position, even if it has a strong legal anchor.

Under the Hague Ruling, the Philippines upheld its Exclusive Economic Zone and rejected the China’s claim of nine-dash-line in the entire sea.

The ruling also declared the Panginiban Reef, Ayungin Shoal, Spratly Islands, Panatag Shoal, and Recto Bank are all belong to Philippines’ EEZ.

‘Kaibigan ako ng Amerika, kaibigan ako ng China’

President Duterte then said that the Philippines is a friend to both United States and China — countries that have opposite positions in the West Philippine Sea issue.

China repeatedly refused to recognize the ruling and its claiming of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. On the other hand, the United States is for freedom of navigation in the claimed areas.

“Kaibigan ako ng Amerika, kaibigan ako ng China. I am not against China, hindi ako pro-American,” Duterte said.

“I am just a Filipino government worker working for the interest of my country, Duterte added.