Juxtaposed: Duterte stance on West Philippine Sea in 2016 campaign and after winning presidency

May 4, 2021 - 4:14 PM
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Duterte in 2016
Duterte during election campaigning for the May 2016 national elections in Malabon, Philippines, on April 27. (Reuters/Erik De Castro)

Jet skis and the issue concerning Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea surfaced anew after President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that he “never mentioned about China and the Philippines” in his 2016 presidential campaign.

The chief executive in his recorded national address mentioned the Asian giant in the first part of his speech after he thanked Russia for the arrival of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines last Saturday.

“China remains to be our benefactor and just because—if I may just add something to the narrative—just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful,” he said in his May 3 speech.

Duterte then went on to lambast retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who both led the country’s maritime legal experts to the Permanent Court of Arbitration to settle the maritime dispute.

“And there is one thing fundamental that you said, I never, never in my campaign as president promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

“I did not promise that I would pressure China. I never mentioned about China and the Philippines in my campaign because that was a very serious matter,” Duterte added.

He further said that the issue involves diplomacy which he said is the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“I never promised anything. Just because I’m president gusto ninyo makipag-away ako. Walang kuwestiyon ‘yan. Maski ngayon mayroon tayong barko diyan, ngayon sa ano. Sabi ko stay put kayo,” Duterte said, referring to the Philippine Coast Guard’s drills in the West Philippine Sea.

While he denied mentioning the maritime dispute with China in his campaign, there were instances in the past when Duterte said he would talk to Beijing about its aggressive expansion in the South China Sea.

West Philippine Sea lies over the eastern parts of the South China Sea that are within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The EEZ is an area in which the coastal country has sovereign rights over the sea’s exploration and use of its marine resources. This is 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the baseline.

Duterte’s vows during the campaign period 

Following Duterte’s recent denial about mentioning the sea row in 2016, relevant past footage and remarks were recently brought up by online users.

Reporter Tristan Nodalo of CNN Philippines cited the president’s words in January 2016, when he was still the mayor of Davao City. Duterte was interviewed on the sidelines of the Philippine Jaycees national convention.

“Sabihin ko sa China, just stop your construction. Be courteous about this and we will just talk. We cannot go into war. We cannot afford it,” he said.

“You have to listen to my declaration – whether you believe it or not, that’s something else – but if we talk, I’d say that the predicate of this talks is that what you are occupying now belongs to the Republic of the Philippines,” Duterte added.

Nodalo also recalled Duterte’s remarks in February 2016, when the latter attended the CNN Philippines Town Hall meeting.

“If I will be in the presidency for two years, walang nangyayari (and if there’s nothing happening), China keeps on expanding, I will tell them you better stop them because that is ours,” the presidential aspirant said.

In April that year, one month before the 2016 national elections, Duterte said that he would ride a jet ski to the features claimed by China and plant a Philippine flag to assert the country’s sovereign rights.

This was uttered during the third presidential debate in Dagupan City on Apr. 24, 2016.

The presidential candidates were asked how they can help Filipinos fish peacefully in the West Philippine Sea without being bothered by Chinese vessels.

At that time, Duterte was responding to a question posed by a fisherman.

“Kapag sinabi (ng UN arbitral tribunal) na panalo tayo at ayaw ng China, I will not go to war. Pupunta ako sa China. Ngayon ‘pag ayaw nila, I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest boundary, diyan sa Spratly, sa Scarborough,” the then-Davao City mayor said.

“Bababa ako, sasakay ako ng jet ski, dala-dala ko yung flag ng Pilipino at pupunta ako doon sa airport nila tapos itanim ko, then I would say, ‘This is ours and do what you want with me.’ Bahala na kayo,” Duterte added.

Videos of the debate featuring Duterte’s answer were likewise brought up on social media in response to his latest comments about the sea row.

RELATED: From bold promise to ‘publicity stunt’: The evolution of Duterte’s jet ski pledge

In the presidency

A few months after he won the presidency, Duterte looked back on his “jet ski” remarks and said that it was just a “hyperbole.”

“It was a hyperbole… You cannot expect me to ride (a jet ski), I don’t even know how to swim,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“It was a hyperbole to stress a point that we will not, we will not give up anything there,” Duterte added.

At that time, he was scheduled to hold bilateral talks with China in a few days.

Three years in the presidency, Duterte once again mentioned his “jet ski” remark during the campaign period and stressed that it was “just talk.”

“When I said I would go to China on a jet ski, that’s nonsense. I don’t even have… It’s just talk. I’m surprised you believed it,” he said in a speech before the Philippine National Police’s SWAT units.

RELATED: WATCH: Duterte explains why he can’t ride jet ski to West Philippine Sea

Duterte’s spokesperson on Tuesday said that the administration is continuously asserting the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea through bilateral diplomacy.

It also being pursued through multilateral engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, strategic partners, the United Nations and the international community.

“Hindi rin maituturing na isang form of subjugation ang mapayapang paraan para maresolba ang hindi pagkakaunawaan,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in his press briefing.

“The President was clear, ‘di niya ipinangako na mababawi ang mga teritoryo na nawala sa atin. Even the jet ski, ang sabi lang niya sasabihan ang China na umalis pero ‘di niya ipinangako na ang nawalang Scarborough Shoal ay mapapaalis ang mga Tsino doon,” he added.