Manila on damage control mode over Duterte’s ‘divorce notice’ to US

Oct 21, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte

Philippines officials have gone into damage control mode after controversial President Rodrigo Duterte said the country’s long-term alliance with the United States was over.

Philippines Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told CNN the country “would not stop trade and investment with the US.”

“(Duterte) has decided to strengthen further and rekindle the ties with China and the Asean region,” Lopez said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

There was widespread shock after Duterte announced his “separation” from the US, suggesting he would cut both economic and military ties, in favor of moving closer to Beijing.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” President Duterte told business leaders in Beijing.

“And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

But a spokeswoman for the President back in Manila suggested there was confusion within the government about what exactly Duterte intended.

“We would not like to interpret the pronouncements of the President,” Maria Banaag told reporters Friday.

‘Troubling rhetoric’b

The Philippines is a key US ally in the region, and Washington supported former President Benigno Aquino’s efforts to gain international recognition for Manila’s claims to South China Sea territory illegally occupied by China.

In a statement, the US Embassy in Manila blasted Duterte’s comments as “creating unnecessary uncertainty.”

“We’ve seen a lot of this sort of troubling rhetoric recently which is inexplicably at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people and the record of important cooperation between our two governments,” embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said.

The US will honor its alliance commitments and treaty obligations, and expects the Philippines to do the same, she added.

Beijing rejected a recent international court ruling in Manila’s favour, and has long called for bilateral negotiations in which other parties do not participate.

In a statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised Duterte’s willingness to address “territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means … through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.”