A TOP US envoy visiting Manila, departing from usual practice, did not seek a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte, whose fiery rhetoric he said was becoming a growing concern around the world.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay confirmed that there would be no meeting between the President and visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the top American envoy for Asia.
The assistant press attaché at the US Embassy, Molly Koscina, also confirmed that no request was made with the Palace.
“We did not request a meeting with the President for Assistant Secretary Russel,” she said in a text message.
After an hour-long meeting with Yasay in the DFA main office, Russel proceeded to his scheduled consultation with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Russel arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, and watched a basketball game at the Araneta stadium in the afternoon.
In an ambush interview, Russel said the series of Duterte’s “controversial statements” against the US have caused uncertainty and consternation among some countries, not only his own.
He also said the President’s remarks were a growing concern not only among governments, but in communities such as the expat Filipino community, and in corporate boardrooms.
“This is not a positive trend,” he warned.
Duterte during his visit to Beijing has declared that he wanted to “separate” from the country’s top trading partner and long-time ally, the United States.
Russel was here to seek an explanation of Duterte’s remarks from the Philippine government.
Russel, however, said that Duterte himself has already “walked back and explained” that comment on Saturday, saying that the separation was in terms of foreign policy.
Now that it is clear, Russel said, there will be no change in the US diplomatic relationship with the Philippines.
“He described it as a reference to maintain an independent foreign policy. Well, if separation means that the government in Manila makes its own foreign policy decisions based on its own assessment of the Philippine national interest then there’s no need for a change,” Russel said.
While the American government fully support Manila’s decision in forging an alliance with Beijing, Russel said that it is a mistake to think that the improved relations with China comes at the expense of the US.
Russel said Yasay had briefed him about Duterte’s recent state visit to China.
“I reiterated that the US welcomes a relaxation of relations between Beijing and Manila,” Russel said.
He added that the US does not intend for any country to choose between them and China.
“That’s not the way we think about it. This should be addition and not subtraction. We don’t want countries to have to choose between the US and China,” he said.
He said the US believed that all countries should be able “to make their own decisions in keeping with democratic values and keeping with international law.”
“So let me end where I began by strongly reaffirming America’s enduring bond of friendship, respect and shared value with the people of the Philippines,” he added.
Russel also said that he also told Yasay that some “friends” are also concerned about Duterte’s bloody war on illegal drugs.
“And as I candidly shared with the foreign secretary, your friends are also concerned about the loss of life, in connection with the counter narcotics campaign,” he said.
He said that the US government may support Duterte’s campaign, but said it should observe due process.
“Now we strongly support the effort against the scourge of drugs. And I explained the ways the US can and does assist the Philippines in protecting your communities against the danger of illegal drugs that flow into your country from overseas, including by the support of our own DEA and other agencies,” he said.
“But I also reiterated the importance that we place and that others place on due process and respect for the rights of citizens as an important part of protecting communities as well,” Russel added.
He admitted that the continuous killing in the country caused a “growing uncertainty” that is bad for business.
“The growing uncertainty about this and other issues is bad for business… This is a very competitive region,” Russel said.
“And the Philippines’ advantage as a close US partner with strong institutions and respect for the rule of law has served it very well. We think that is something that is worth protecting,” the American official added.
Yasay said he explained to Russel that Duterte’s remarks was only intended simply “for the Filipinos’ mindset to separate themselves from the paradigm of dependency and subservience” to a foreign interest.
“It has nothing to do with breaking our relationship with the United States, or breaking diplomatic ties, we continue to work towards the strengthening our ties with the United States,” Yasay told the reporters shortly after Russel left his office.
Yasay said even Duterte admitted last Saturday when he arrived from his trip to China that breaking up with the United States would not be in the country’s best interest.
“We will continue to respect our alliance with the United States, as it’s our only military ally. We will respect our treaty and associated agreements with respect to the treaty. We will forge ahead in making sure that our relationship will proceed on a much stronger basis. Our thrust, however, in carrying out our independent foreign policy is to make sure that we will not have this kind of dependency or subservience that has always with against the national interest,” Yasay said.
The US State Department last Friday announced that Russel will be pursuing a “long-scheduled” plan to visit the country.
He, along with US Defense Assistant Secretary Kelly Magsamen, also met with Lorenzana.
The Palace on Monday played down Russel’s visit, saying it merely raised “old concerns.”
“It’s not a new line. It’s something that the US and the Western alignment have referred to again and again. However, the President already made his position clear regarding that, and there are no state-sanctioned policy regarding these alleged extrajudicial killings. Even the Senate made reference with that and absolved the President in their own particular investigation of the matter,” presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a Palace press briefing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry rang Yasay on Monday to discuss the alliance, Russel said.
Duterte has frequently voiced deep anger at American criticism of his efforts to eliminate drugs in society, repeatedly branding President Barack Obama as a “son of a bitch” and telling him to “go to hell” for expressing concerns.
Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist, has sought to diminish his nation’s alliance with the United States in favor of closer ties with China and Russia.
Duterte’s “separation” remark was made during a four-day state visit to China.
“America has lost. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” Duterte said in Beijing.
Immediately upon returning to the Philippines, Duterte said he would not cut ties with the United States, but he nevertheless launched another profanity-laced critique.
“If there is one thing that America has failed miserably, it is in the province of the human dignity,” Duterte said on Saturday, as signaled he did not care about the hundreds of millions dollars in foreign aid from the United States.
“Assistance, USAID, you can go to hell,” he said.
Duterte has repeatedly said the Philippines has not benefited from its ties with the US, particularly denigrating their military alliance that is anchored on a 1951 mutual defense treaty.
The nations typically hold more than two dozen war games of various sizes every year, but Duterte has said there will be no more.
He has also said he eventually he may no longer allow American troops on Filipino soil at all, and canceled joint patrols in the South China Sea so as not to anger Beijing.
Nevertheless, the Philippines on Monday accepted a second-hand American C-130 transport plane at a handover ceremony in Manila.
“This will certainly boost our air transport facilities. The importance of this aircraft cannot be over-emphasized,” Lorenzana said at the ceremony.
The plane was the second delivered this year under an agreement in which the Philippines buys surplus American military hardware. With AFP