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Will Duterte Stand with the Chinese, or with His Countrymen?

Will Duterte Stand with the Chinese, or with His Countrymen
Damaged Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver ashore in Occidental Mindoro. Photo: AP/ABS-CBN/DA

o matter how you try to slice it. No matter how you try to spin it. It remains extremely difficult to understand, much less justify Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments regarding the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat allegedly rammed, by a Chinese militia vessel.

After days of near complete silence, Duterte finally spoke. At the 121st anniversary celebration of the Philippine Navy in Sangley Point, Cavite City, the president told his audience that the incident was nothing but “a little maritime accident.”

Surprisingly, the impatient, shoot-from-the-hip former mayor who promised to end the country’s illegal drug scourge in three months, was now advocating a go-slow approach. “You know, we are ruled as a civilized nation and as members of the community by the law that govern whatever happens in the seas as we go along our business. There will be rules for a military confrontation. There will be rules for a mistaken identity attack. There is a rule for fishermen’s boats. There is a rule for an aircraft carrier bumping a banca boat, a fishing boat,” Duterte finally telling his audience that “the only thing we can do is to wait and give the other party the right to be heard. That’s important.”

Duterte detractors note that he suddenly becomes a stickler for rules, and more than willing to bend over backwards when it is China’s President Xi Jin Ping he’s dealing with. He gives the Chinese the benefit of the doubt—”let justice take its due course and wind its way through the courts.” But, Duterte, those same detractors point out, never extended the same consideration to the tens of thousands of victims of his ongoing war on drugs. For the unfortunate victims of extrajudicial killings, there was no due process. The death squads were both judge and jury, with their sentences carried out immediately.

Many Filipinos—including Duterte loyalists, as well as members of his Cabinet, believe China is at fault. Even the fishing boat’s captain, Junel Insigne appeared so dismayed at the president, he chose not to go to Malacaang meet with him.

So, will the president eventually come around to the “Pinoy” point-of-view, or will he continue to espouse Beijing’s talking points? This remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Duterte is rapidly using up his cache of goodwill by appearing to stand by China on this issue. Published 6/23/2019

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