Jet ski brag got Duterte 'quite a number' of votes too, Lacson points out
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte holds a meeting with his pandemic task force on April 19, 2021.
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Jet ski brag got Duterte 'quite a number' of votes too, Lacson points out

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - May 11, 2021 - 2:02pm

MANILA, Philippines — It is a disservice to his own voters for President Rodrigo Duterte to say that a campaign boast related to asserting Philippine sovereignty was just a joke, two senators said Tuesday. 

Amid continued controversy surrounding his policy on the West Philippine Sea, Duterte said at a televised meeting of the coronavirus response task force that he was just joking when he said as a presidential candidate that he would jet ski to the area to assert Manila's claim. 

"If you on the other side believe that...I would say that you are really stupid," the president added, speaking partially in Filipino. He said he wanted to respond to the "jet ski brouhaha", an issue that had not been in the news since March 2018.

Duterte made the boast at a televised campaign debate and in response to a fisherman asking what candidates could do to protect Filipino fisherfolk from being harassed by China's coast guard. 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate defense committee, said such comments, though directed by Duterte at critics, actually hurt the 16 million voters who put the president in power. 

"May halong pag-insulto pa yung dating (It comes across as insulting)," Lacson said of Duterte's remarks in an online briefing with reporters. 

"Quite a number voted because of that statement, that's what the voters were looking for: defending our sovereignty," he added partially in Filipino. 

Meanwhile, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary, said Duterte fooled the Filipino people by making false promises. 

"Duterte’s campaign in the 2016 elections was waged on pure gimmickry with no solid program of government on which to anchor his outlandish promises that’s why all we can hear now are his excuses why he cannot execute," she said.

"Isa siyang napakalaking joke na nangyari sa bansa na hindi nakakatawa (He is one big joke on our country that is not funny)." 

She added that Duterte's remarks should remind Filipinos in upcoming elections to "not be fooled again by politicians like Duterte who are like empty shells that have nothing to show" for their promises. 

"The presidency is no joking matter. The presidency is serious business," Lacson also said. 

Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa, a staunch ally and former national police chief of Duterte's, defended the president, telling DZbb Super Radyo: "Well, that’s him plain and simple." 

"Joke or no joke, it is only China that could alter its own plans and intentions on the disputed West Philippine Sea."

The West Philippine Sea is the area of the South China Sea inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

'Duterte undermining statements of his secretaries' 

Lacson emphasized that Duterte's confusing remarks on the country's policy towards the West Philippine Sea undermine the statements made by his secretaries of defense and foreign affairs. 

"[His statements] have implications. Not only for Filipinos but the organizations that receive his message," he said in Filipino. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs last week said Duterte's statement on the Philippines' arbitral award at the 75th UN General Assembly "stands as the supreme expression of foreign policy" on the West Philippine Sea issue. 

While Duterte uncharacteristically acknowledged the award's significance in that one instance, he has dismissed it on several occasions, most recently calling it "just a piece of paper" that he will throw away. 

These dismissive remarks from the president have an impact, Lacson stressed.

"The statements of his two alter egos are diminished. The president is the chief architect of foreign policy," he said partially in Filipino. 

DFA urged: Lead talks with ASEAN on West Philippine Sea 

In a statement released Tuesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the DFA to lead talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the prolonged presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

"While the ASEAN as a union cannot yet enforce a policy that could push China to follow international law, let’s not stop building and strengthening alliances with those we know unambiguously contest China’s excessive claims in the entire [South China Sea]," she said. 

Senators have urged the government on several occasions to pursue a multilateral approach in response to China's aggression in the South China Sea. 

READ: Senators push ‘united stand’, multilateral approach on South China Sea dispute | LIST: World powers that criticized China's maritime militia ships at West Philippine Sea reef

“Let’s do everything we can before it’s too late... Our claims can only be made stronger if ASEAN has a uniform, consistent, and solid message: China, pack up and get out,” Hontiveros said.

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