By Nestor Corrales
11:23 PM October 5th, 2016
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC
USE your “creative imagination.”
This is what a Palace official had to say when asked to clarify President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent statement that he would eventually “break up with America.”
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella told reporters not to literally interpret the statements of the President.
“If we follow his style, let us not put a period at the end of his statements,” Abella said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
Abella said the media should learn to “understand” Duterte instead of “taking him literally.”
In his speech before the Jewish community in Makati City on Tuesday night, Duterte said he would eventually cut ties with the country’s longtime ally – the United States.
Asked for clarification, Abella said the President’s statement was part of the government’s independent foreign policy and a “broadening of options” in terms of alliances with other countries.
He admitted that the Philippines “might” sever ties with the US in the future.
“Okay, siguro ang mahalaga diyan, is dapat intindihin natin ‘yung word na ‘cut ng ties.’ Sabi niya it’s a possibility that he could, that he might. Hindi ba ‘yun pagkakasabi kanina, ‘might,’ that he might, okay? So but let’s try to use our creative imagination, okay? Huwag tayo masyadong tayong literal,” he said.
The Palace official said the President’s pronouncements may only be considered as policy statement when followed by “an official action.”
“A number of his statements are not really—are basically expressions of frustration and a desire to express the independence of the Philippines. But at this stage, there are no official statements or moves regarding this matter,” he said.
In the case of his statement of severing ties with the US, Abella said there were no “official moves” yet to sever ties with the superpower nation.
During his previous speeches, Duterte has often issued statements which he does not elaborate.
Ask for clarification on his pronouncements, the Palace and Duterte’s Cabinet secretaries would sometimes issue conflicting statements.
To address this concern, the Palace has released a memorandum on September 21, saying “official statements of the President on significant national and international issues” should only be issued by the presidential spokesperson.
In his absence, all statements on behalf of the President would be delivered only by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Despite the memorandum, Malacanang assured that Cabinet secretaries were still free to issue statements concerning their offices.
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Hardly a day goes by that President Rodrigo Duterte fails to come up with some new way to poison the relationship between the Philippines and the United States.
On Tuesday, the Philippines began annual joint military exercises with the Americans, but Mr. Duterte has threatened that this will be the last time. He has also favorably compared his extrajudicial killings of drug addicts to the Holocaust, drawing so much condemnation that he later apologized. Still, the allusion suggested a new wave of vigilante deaths to come, on top of the more than 1,300 victims tallied so far.
Riding high in the polls, Mr. Duterte, a bullying leader with a vulgar mouth and volatile temperament, has been compared to Donald Trump and seems determined to shake up Filipino foreign policy as much as domestic policy. In so doing he could undermine not only relations with the United States but, more broadly, stability in Asia, which is already threatened by China’s increasingly aggressive efforts to assert control over most of the South China Sea.
The United States has a long history with the Philippines, a former colony that became independent in 1946 and signed a mutual defense treaty with Washington in 1951. The relationship has had its ups and downs, including controversy over two key naval bases that lately have been reopened to American forces. With the Obama administration rebalancing American interests in Asia as a counterweight to China, the relationship with the Philippines is more important than ever.
In the three short months since he took office, Mr. Duterte has called President Obama a “son of a bitch,” threatened to evict American special operations forces training Filipino troops to fight terrorists on the southern island of Mindanao, and hinted at new alliances with China and Russia.
This could all be bluster. Mr. Duterte’s senior aides have assured American officials that nothing will change, and so far there has been no effort to remove the special forces. And despite Mr. Duterte’s flirtation with China, Beijing is still blocking Filipino fishermen from their traditional waters in the South China Sea. The Philippine peso has fallen, and credit rating agencies have warned that they could soon downgrade the country’s creditworthiness. Some American lawmakers, meanwhile, have suggested cutting aid to Manila.
So far, the Obama administration has held fast, reaffirming its commitment to the alliance while issuing statements against Mr. Duterte’s violation of the rule of law and disregard of human rights. It is not an easy situation to manage, however, given Mr. Duterte’s volatility and erratic ways. The hope is that in time he will temper his ideas. But a lot of damage could be done to his country and its ties to America in the meantime.
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