President Duterte disavowed Monday that he harangued China during his 2016 presidential campaign. “I did not promise that I would pressure China,” he claimed. “I never mentioned about China and the Philippines in my campaign because that was a very serious matter. I never, never in my campaign as president promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea.”
Online videos prove otherwise. On April 24, 2016, he dared: “The Arbitration Court can go on and hear the case. Ngayon pag sinabi panalo tayo, pag ayaw nila, then I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest boundary diyan sa Spratly, Scarborough. 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’.”
Chinese aggression in the WPS was a hot election issue then. Voters were furious that Chinese coastguards were barring Filipinos from their Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal traditional fishing ground. China was also landfilling seven reefs into island-fortresses within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone. In debates presidential candidates were being asked their stand.
Candidates usually hyperbolize. But their exaggerations mostly spring from intense feelings. If not, then it’s “hyper-bola” or extreme lie.
Of Duterte’s “plant-the-flag” bravado, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio recounted: “President Duterte’s campaign[ers] also issued a statement that he fully supported the arbitration case against China: ‘As a Filipino, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte fully supports the case now pending in The Hague questioning China’s occupation of areas in the WPS that the Philippines considers its territory. He is hopeful for a favorable ruling for the Philippines’.”
Carpio, who helped file the arbitration in 2013, concluded: “President Duterte cannot now say that he never discussed or mentioned the WPS issue when he was campaigning for President. Otherwise he would be admitting that he was fooling the Filipino people big time. There is a term for that – grand estafa or grand larceny. Making a false promise to get 16 million votes.”
Duterte and three presidential contenders in 2016 were incumbent public officials. They were bound by the Constitution’s Article XI, Accountability of Public Officers, Section 1: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
Integrity – honesty, moral uprightness – is a trait voters most seek in candidates. Honesty was itself an election issue. So was patriotism, because of the China problem.
China’s EEZ intrusions remain hot issue. Last March, 220 Chinese maritime militia craft blockaded Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef. Exposed, they dispersed to poach in the rest of Pagkakaisa (Union) Bank and Kalayaan Island municipality of Palawan. Fish by the millions of kilos worth billions of dollars are being hauled off. Dozens more trawlers pillage Panatag and Recto (Reed) Bank.
From ports in the concreted reefs Chinese gunboats chase away Filipino exploration vessels from Recto’s Sampaguita oilfields. Bancas are water-cannoned or machine-gunned when approaching Panatag. In 2019 a Chinese steel trawler rammed an anchored Filipino wooden boat and abandoned the 26 fishermen thrown overboard. In 2020 a Chinese warship, unprovoked, aimed its weapons on a Philippine Navy patrol near Palawan.
Beijing ignores diplomatic protests against militarizing Philippine waters. In survey after survey, 90 percent of Filipinos want defensive action. Duterte is under increasing pressure to toughen up instead of acquiescing. The Constitution in Article II, Declaration of Principles and State Policies, Section 7, mandates: “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination.”
The Hague court on July 12, 2016 rubbished China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the entire South China Sea. It upheld Philippine sovereign rights to its EEZ and rebuked China for reef destruction. Two weeks into his presidency then, Duterte shelved the Philippine victory. President Xi Jinping promised him $24 billion in loans, but only a trickle materialized.
In 2019 Duterte disclosed a “verbal” agreement with Xi allowing Chinese to fish in the EEZ. He has yet to detail how much they can fish, where, when and for how long. Carpio reminded Duterte last week of the people’s right to know. The President cannot monarchically cut state deals. The Constitution states in Article II, Declaration of Principles, Section 1: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
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Three years ago last Tuesday, May 4, Duterte said: “[President] Aquino filed an arbitration case. We won… Bakit hindi nyo pinuntahan at sinita?”
A meme has Aquino’s solicitor general Florin Hilbay reminding: “Sir, Philippines versus China was decided 12 July 2016. You assumed the presidency at noon of 30 June 2016.”