Jet ski boast was pledge to assert sovereignty in West Philippine Sea — analysts

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Jet ski boast was pledge to assert sovereignty in West Philippine Sea � analysts
This handout photo taken April 14, 2021, and received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) April 15, Philippine coast guard personnel aboard rubber boats and displaying a Philippine flag, patrol past Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
PCG / Releaed

MANILA, Philippines — The fisherman on the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign boast that he would jet ski to the West Philippine Sea on Wednesday said he was hurt that the remarks have since been dismissed by the chief executive as "a joke" and those who believed it as "stupid." 

But legal and political analyst Tony La Viña told Philstar.com that while the jet ski comment was "clearly" a hyperbole, it was also a "[promise] to defend our national territory with all the powers of the presidency."

"Our feelings were hurt by what [Duterte] said, we were hoping he would do it," Carlo Montehermozo, the fisherman from Dagupan who came face to face with then-candidate Duterte in 2016, told DZMM Teleradyo in an interview in Filipino. 

READ: Duterte stresses jet ski boast was just a campaign joke

"It hurts. He made a promise, then he didn't keep it ... I'm not a stupid person," he said. 

While he voted for Duterte later that year, hoping that he would help as promised, Montehermozo said he now believes that his presidency has been a "joke." 

For La Viña, a former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, the disappointment is not over Duterte's exaggerated manner of speaking but the "serious message" underlying it. 

"Nobody, including the fisherman, expected him to jet ski to the West Philippine Sea. But we expected him to strongly resist China's incursions and attacks on our national territory," he said over a text exchange. 

"That is why the fisherman is hurt and all of us are." 

READ: Fish in our time: Duterte and Xi's 'undocumented' deal on sea row

'A violation of public trust' 

Michael Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center, told Philstar.com that Duterte's confusing rhetoric "violates the constitutional prescription that public office is a public trust." 

"Filipinos should be able to see their public officials, most especially the president, as a paragon of honesty and integrity," he said.

This means, Yusingco added, that "citizens should be able to trust every utterance coming out of the mouths of these public officials." 

The "flippancy" displayed by Duterte, Yusingco said, actually "betrays a lack of serious understanding about the WPS issue, at the very least." 

What Filipinos should be concerned about, he said, is the administration's ability to make light of a matter as grave as China's incursions and whether it is capable of repelling such a threat. 

"Their appeasement policy in the WPS may have put the country in a position to lose more territory and could have severely compromised the food security of future generation of Filipinos," Yusingco said. 

"The feeling of being punched in the gut intimated by the fisherman who asked the jet ski question is understandable and justified." 

Palace: 'Use common sense' 

Looking to defend the president's latest inflammatory statement, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told ABS-CBN's "Matters of Fact" that it only takes "common sense" to know when Duterte is joking. 

READ: Jet ski brag got Duterte 'quite a number' of votes too, Lacson points out

The jet ski remark, Panelo said, was meant "to dramatize the fact that he will not allow China to assault the sovereignty of this country." He also said Duterte on Monday night was only calling his critics "stupid" and not his voters whom Panelo claimed all knew that the president was just joking. 

Duterte uncharacteristically acknowledged the significance of the country's 2016 South China Sea arbitral award at the 75th UN General Assembly and members of his administration insist that this statement is the "supreme expression" of the country's West Philippine Sea policy.

But the president, at televised addresses and meetings, has often derided the landmark ruling, most recently calling it "just a piece of paper" that he will throw away.

He has also repeatedly claimed that asserting the Philippines' sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the country's exclusive economic zone, would lead to war with China and has been repeatedly chided by experts, academics, and lawmakers for saying so. 

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