DAVAO CITY—President-in-waiting Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday the Philippines will remain a staunch ally of the United States despite his willingness to work with China on their territorial dispute over the South China Sea.
Speaking to GMA News, Duterte said he told this to US President Barack Obama Tuesday night when the American leader congratulated him on his landslide victory on May 9 and hailed the country’s “vibrant democracy.”
“I assured him [Obama] that we will continue with our mutual interests and that we are allied with the Western [world] on this issue on China Sea,” Duterte said.
He said that while he would maintain the Aquino administration’s present track of taking a multilateral approach and pursuing arbitration, he was ready to try something else if this did not work.
“If it goes on still waters, I said, [if] there’s no wind to move the sail, I might opt to go bilateral,” Duterte said, referring to direct talks with Beijing.
Obama told Duterte that he should wait for the result of the arbitration case before the UN tribunal.
In the case filed in January 2014, the Philippines challenged the validity of China’s sprawling territorial claims in the resource-rich waters and sought to clarify the territorial entitlements of certain Chinese-occupied features under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
The White House, in a statement, highlighted “the enduring values that underpin” the US alliance with the Philippines, including “shared commitments to democracy, human rights, rule of law, and inclusive economic growth.”
“The two leaders affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship continue to grow on the basis of these shared principles,” the statement read.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said that while the United States did not refer directly to allegations of human rights abuses against Duterte, Rhodes noted that some “controversy” and “statements ... drew attention in the past.”
“But look, this is a new government and we’ll want to hear from them directly what their priorities are,” he said when asked about the May 9 presidential election in the Philippines.
Rhodes said Washington hoped “to build on progress made with the last administration” in the country.
“For us the priorities will remain the security and the prosperity of the Philippines; we’ll want to see continued efforts in the Philippines to respect the rule of law and combat corruption, just as we support those kinds of efforts across Asia and around the world,” Rhodes added.
During the campaign, when Duterte drew flak from the Australian and American ambassadors for saying he should have been first to have sex with an attractive Australian missionary who was raped and killed in the 1980s, he told the envoys to “shut their mouths” and to stay out of local politics.
In its 2014 human rights report, the US State Department said extra-judicial killings were the “most significant” human rights problem in the Philippines, its key ally in the Pacific.
Washington has since signaled its willingness to “work” with Duterte, despite allegations of rights abuses in the city he has led for over two decades.
“Washington respects the choice of the Philippine people. We gladly work with the leaders they’ve selected,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
In an interview, Duterte spokesperson Peter Laviña admitted that they have problems with at least three embassies over Duterte’s controversial statements during the campaign period, but said they may visit them once Duterte becomes president-elect.
“We have problems now with at least three embassies—the US, Australia, and Singapore,” Laviña said.
The State Department, however, emphasized that it is up to American officials in the country, led by Ambassador Philip Goldberg, to fix relations with him, after he criticized the mayor’s rape “joke.”
Goldberg has yet to pay the incoming president a visit in Davao City.
In an interview with The New York Times after his win, Duterte recounted how an American bombing suspect was arrested in Davao City, but was later “spirited away” by US Embassy officials, which was the source of his disgust.
Earlier, Duterte met with Chinese and the Japanese envoys in Davao City. He is also set to meet with the ambassador from Russia on Wednesday.
Incoming acting Foreign Affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Wednesday assured the international community of continuity in the country’s foreign relations, particularly on the territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Yasay said that continuity was important in foreign relations, and assured the public that the Duterte administration would not bring drastic changes in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He also said that the incoming administration would wait for the decision of the arbitration court in The Hague, The Netherlands. With AFP
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.