President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he never made a promise during his presidential campaign in 2016 to retake the West Philippine Sea from China.

“I never, never in my campaign as president promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a televised address.

“I did not promise that I would pressure China. I never mentioned about China and the Philippines in my campaign because that was a very serious matter,” he added.

Duterte said the conflict with China, which he called a “benefactor,” was not a reason for Filipinos to be “rude and disrespectful.”

“As a matter of fact, we have many things to thank China for the help in the past and itong mga tulong nila ngayon. China, I know President Xi Jinping, because I was blunt—unang kita namin sinabi ko na kaagad about our resources diyan sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.

Conflict with 2016 promise

But Duterte in 2016 made a stern promise—that he would go to the disputed waters personally via jetski to plant a Philippine flag.

“Kapag sinabi [ng United Nations arbitral tribunal] na panalo tayo at ayaw ng China, I will not go to war. Pupunta ako sa China. Ngayon ‘pag ayaw nila, I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest boundary, diyan sa Spratly, sa Scarborough,” Duterte said during the Pangasinan leg of the presidential debates in 2016.

“Bababa ako at sasakay ako ng jetski, dala dala ko ang flag ng Filipino at pupunta ako dun sa airport [ng China] tapos itanim ko. I will say, ‘This is ours and do what you want with me,’” he added.

Duterte even said he was ready to be killed by the Chinese.

“I will stake that claim. Matagal ko nang ambisyon yan, na maging hero din ako. Pag pinatay nila ako doon bahala na kayo umiyak dito,” he said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro