DAVAO CITY, Philippines – “Separation” from the United States is “not severance of ties,” President Duterte pointed out Friday night upon his arrival from Beijing, where he bared his “separation” from the US and his pivot to China and Russia in an announcement that left even his close officials bewildered.
The US is seeking official clarification of Duterte’s announcement made on at least two occasions during his Beijing visit. The White House cited “too many troubling statements” from Duterte.
“You know, you have to take my words in the context of what I have been saying all along. It’s not severance of ties. When you say severance of ties you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that, “ the President said.
He ended his four-day state visit to China last Friday. He was in Brunei before his Beijing visit.
“We’ve seen too many troubling public statements from President Duterte over the last several months,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a daily press briefing.
“And the frequency of that rhetoric has added an element of unnecessary uncertainty into our relationship that doesn’t advance the interests of either country.”
Duterte said it is in the best interest of the country that it keeps its diplomatic relations with the US.
“Separation of my foreign policy, that it need not dovetail the foreign policy of America. That’s what I meant actually,” he explained.
“Sever means to cut. Separate is just to chart another way of doing it,” he added.
He admitted cutting the country’s ties with the US is something many Filipinos are not ready to accept.
He also cited the large number of Filipinos living and working in the US, a former colonizer and currently the Philippines’ biggest trading partner.
The President said he is mindful of the economic implications of cutting ties with the US.
“That’s why better be careful with the word ‘we separate or severed, severed our diplomatic relations.’ Second one is not feasible. Why? Because the Filipinos in the United States will kill me,” the President said.
He added the Americans – especially those in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry – have as much to worry about as the Filipinos in the event of severance of ties between the US and the Philippines.
“How about the Americans working for, here also in the Philippines? If I should worry about the Filipinos, they should also about the Americans here and their investments,” the President said.
“I said ‘separation’ – what I was really saying was separation of a foreign policy,” the President said.
He also said he may have to consult with the military and the police on how to deal with existing agreements with the US, including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
“I worry that they would not get out of this country, that you have to force them. That is my worry. Why should I be worried? It will affect EDCA and the rest of the agreements? Maybe. But I would have to consult the military, the police and everybody because at the end of the day, it is all security,” the President said.
The country’s military relationship with the US is contained in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
Duterte stressed it’s now time for Filipinos to chart their own destiny and not just take a “cue” from the US or follow its dictates.
Duterte also defended his decision to veer towards China and Russia.
“It could be a military alliance. It could be an economic alliance. It could be an economic bloc,” he explained.
Asked by an American journalist whom he would choose if he were to vote in the coming US elections, Duterte said he would rather not make “unnecessary comments” but cited “splendid relations with America and the fact that there are already millions of Filipinos, maybe, in your country.”
He also admitted looking up to Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a hero.
For Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Duterte was right about raising the issue of US interference in the Philippines’ “internal affairs.”
In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada also called on Filipinos to support the President’s war on drugs, despite criticisms from the US and other Western nations.
“The Philippines is a sovereign country. The US should not interfere with the purely internal affairs of the Philippines, particularly on President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs,” Estrada said.
He recalled that when he was president, the US tried to meddle in his all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Estrada stressed it’s the President’s duty to prevent the country from becoming a narco-state where drug lords dictate on officials.
“What will happen if all the elected officials like governors, congressmen, mayors and others are funded by drug lords? What will happen if we will allow narco-politics to reign in the country? These officials will be beholden to the drug lords and they will just say, ‘yes sir, yes sir,’ to all their orders and interest,” Estrada said.
“All peace-loving Filipinos should throw their all-out support to the campaign of the President against illegal drugs. Not because the US is helping us, we will just allow it to interfere in our internal affairs. We are a sovereign country. We have our own Constitution. The President is right with what he is doing,” the mayor said.
In a statement released by the Manila Public Information Office (PIO), Estrada voiced his support for Duterte’s veering toward China. Unlike the US, China has never interfered in Philippine affairs, the former president said.
The Manila PIO also recounted Estrada’s being dissuaded by then US Defense Secretary William Cohen from launching an all-out war against the MILF.
Estrada successfully took over 46 camps of the MILF, including its biggest, Camp Abubakkar. He said succeeding administrations stopped the offensive and allowed the Muslim rebel group to consolidate its forces. With Jose Rodel Clapano