Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario disclosed Monday that China interfered in the 2016 national elections to help then presidential bet Rodrigo Duterte get elected.
"On February 22, 2019, we received information from a most reliable international entity that high officials from China are bragging that they had been able to influence the 2016 Philippine elections so that Duterte would be president," Del Rosario said in his speech during the online forum on the commemoration of the Philippines' legal victory in the arbitral tribunal against China over the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
"We believe that our Beijing post can easily validate this. Moreover, subsequent actions of the President lend more credence to this information," Del Rosario added.
When sought to provide more details, Del Rosario stressed that the information came from a “highly trustworthy" source.
But in Malacanang, Duterte's office described as "nonsense" del Rosario's suggestion that Beijing might have helped determine the outcome of a 2016 election that swept the Davao City mayor to the riverside Palace.
Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque, in his regular briefing, described Del Rosario's remarks as "nonsense" and called him a "proven traitor" before telling him to "shut up."
Roque has accused Del Rosario, during his time as foreign secretary, of ceding control of the Scarborough Shoal to China.
The Philippine and Chinese foreign ministries, China's embassy in Manila and the Philippine election commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Though Duterte is highly popular in the Philippines, his embrace of China and reluctance to criticize its foreign policy or maritime conduct has been controversial. The President has long maintained it was pointless and dangerous to challenge China.
During the Aquino administration, Del Rosario initiated the filing of a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherland, which rendered a ruling in favor of the Philippines in July 12, 2016 that invalidated Beijing’s massive claims over the South China Sea and upheld Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
After the election, Duterte set aside the arbitral ruling and warmed up relations with China in exchange for aid and investments while often criticizing US policies and castigating American criticisms of his administration’s anti-drugs campaign.
Only in 2020 or four years after the ruling was handed down by the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal that Duterte invoked the arbitral award against China in his address before the United Nations.
Duterte declared before the UN General Assembly in September last year that the ruling was "beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
Duterte previously shelved the arbitration ruling when he assumed office in 2016 and has been criticized for his friendly overtures to China despite its aggressive actions and efforts to drive away Filipinos from its own waters in the West Philippine Sea.
Several months later, Duterte, in a public address, dismissed the ruling as "scrap of paper that is intended for the waste basket."
Despite conflicting pronouncements by Duterte on the sea disputes with China, the DFA said it would "continue to implement the President's foreign policy statement in accordance with Philippine national interest."
"As early as May 15, 2018, our President proudly declared in Casiguran Bay in Aurora that Chinese President Xi Jinping has sworn to protect him from moves that will result in his removal from office," Del Rosario said.
In a 2018 press conference in Davao before going to China to attend the Boao Forum for Asia, Del Rosario said "Duterte professed his undying love for the Chinese President."
"It is certainly disturbing to see our President—who should be looking after his own people—relying on a foreign leader for his security of tenure as President. Moreover, such foreign leader represents an aggressor that is openly and illegally occupying land and waters that belong to the Filipino people," Del Rosario said.
He also described Duterte's administration as a "failure of leadership."
Since 2016, the country’s former top diplomat bewailed that the country's fight for the West Philippine Sea "has lost momentum as Duterte decided to set aside the Award in favor of Beijing’s promise of economic benefits."
Del Rosario attributed this to Duterte's appeasement policy that appears to yield too much to China, saying such action is a betrayal of the Constitution, which mandates him “to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory."
"With less than a year left until the end of President Duterte’s term in June 2022, his record of asserting the rights of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea has been abysmal," Del Rosario lamented.
"As President Duterte himself admitted in his State of the Nation Address in 2020 regarding the Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea: “Talagang inutil ako dyan, walang magawa ['I'm really useless there and there’s nothing I can do],” he said.
"My fellow countrymen, this admission speaks volumes. Is it not about time for Filipinos to reject this man and what he represents?" Del Rosario added.