If Washington wants the Philippines to fight China, the US military should come and fire the first shot, President Rodrigo Duterte argued, accusing the US of using its allies as “bait” for Beijing.

“There is always America pushing us, egging us … making me the bait. What do you think Filipinos are, earthworms?” Duterte said in a speech in Leyte province on Friday, which only got media attention on Sunday.

“Now I say, you bring your planes, your boats to South China Sea. Fire the first shot and we are just here behind you. Go ahead, let’s fight,” he added. “Do you want trouble? OK, let’s do it.”

The remarks came as the government in Manila finds itself sandwiched between US demands for a tougher posture towards China and Beijing’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea, specifically the islands that the Philippines have claimed as their own.

The US knew about China building up the islands, the president told the audience in Alangalang, at the opening of a rice processing factory, noting that the US Navy has the Seventh Fleet stationed in Japan.

“Why didn’t they send it to the Spratly and say ‘Hey guys, you are not supposed to build artificial islands in the high seas, that is exactly prohibited by international law and the fact is you are constructing it within the exclusive economic zone of our friend, the Philippines’?” Duterte asked. “They left them to build it, now it’s all there. All the guns are there, all the missiles are mounted.”

Last month, a Filipino fishing boat was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel, with 22 of its crew members left to fend for themselves in what the military in Manila described as a “hit and run” at sea. They were all eventually saved by a Vietnamese ship. Duterte has dismissed the incident as a “little maritime accident,” calling for restraint from Beijing but refusing to escalate the situation.

“We can never win a war with China,” the president explained on Friday. “I am not about to order my soldiers to go to the mouths of hell to die without a fight. I cannot do that.”

Given 20 years in power, he could have “five cruise missiles plus a cannon” in every village, but that is not the case, Duterte added, hoping that China would “not overdo things.”

This is not the first time Duterte has had harsh words for his American allies. In May, he accused the US of being “too bossy” and having “no honor” over reneging on an arms deal. Washington had balked on the sale of 26,000 rifles for the Philippines’ national police in 2016, voicing human rights concerns.

Thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed since Duterte launched a war on drugs upon taking office, according to Western human rights groups. Amnesty International even called for investigating Duterte for crimes against humanity.

A poll released on Monday showed record popularity for the president, however, with 80 percent approving of his performance and only 12 percent dissatisfied, which is two points higher than his previous record set in June 2017 and repeated in March this year.

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