THE United States’ top diplomat for Asia on Monday warned that the controversial statements of President Rodrigo Duterte has stirred concern not only in the US but in other countries as well.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel held an hour-long closed-door meeting with Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. yesterday to air Washington’s concern on the Duterte’s tirades against the US, particularly his statement last week about the Philippines’ separation from the US.
“The succession of controversial statements, comments and a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions have created consternation in a number of countries,” Russel said. “Not only in mine and not only among governments, but also growing concern in other communities, in the expat Filipino community, in corporate boardrooms as well. This is not a positive trend.”
The discussion came on the heels of Duterte’s announcement that he was breaking the Philippines’ military and economic ties with the US.
“President Duterte has already worked out and explained the comment about separation from the US. He described it as reference to maintaining independent foreign policy. Well, if separation means that the government in Manila makes its own foreign policy decisions based on its own assessment of the Philippines’ national interest, then there’s no need for change,” Russel said.
“If it’s the policy of the Philippines to honor its constitution and make its own decisions on the basis of autonomy, independence and self-reliance, that’s consistent
with the way that the United States and the Philippines have been as partners, as allies.”
Russel also expressed concern on the wave of killings in connection with the administration’s war on drugs.
The official underscored the importance of placing due process and respect for the rights of people as an important part of protecting the community. He clarified, however, that the US continues to support the Philippines’ anti-drug drive.
“I candidly shared with the Foreign Secretary [that]your friends are also concerned about the loss of lives in connection with the counter-narcotics campaign. We strongly support the efforts against the scourge of drugs,” Russel said.
“The growing uncertainty about this issue is bad for business as well. This is a very competitive region. The Philippines’ advantage as US partner, with strong institutions and respect for rule of law has served it very well. We think that’s something worth protecting,” he added.
Russel said the US welcomes the warming relations between the Philippines and China, adding that Kerry supports dialogue and negotiations between the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) claimants.
The official said Washington does not believe that the Philippines’ improving ties with China comes at the expense of the US.
“We don’t want countries to have to choose between the US and China, but we do want countries to be able to
choose, to have choices, to have autonomy, to make their own decisions in keeping with their own democratic values and in keeping with international law,” he said.
Yasay described his meeting with Russel as “fruitful.”
“We were both happy when we came out of the meeting. I’m sure both sides were satisfied about what we did but that’s not the end of it all. We will continue to engage ourselves in dialogue and discussions to make sure that we will know exactly where our relationship, what areas it will strengthen and we can move forward in strengthening [the relationship],” he said.
Phillip Goldberg, US Ambassador to Manila, echoed Russel’s statement, saying Duterte’s “separation” declaration against the US was disturbing.
“We of course are seeking more information about what exactly that means and so we are also concerned as this. But we have a great commitment to the Philippines, and the people of the Philippines. We have a great alliance and a great friendship and so that is why we are seeking clarification because from our part, or on our part, we have a very strong sense that the Philippines is an ally, a friend and we have a strong commitment to its defense, to our mutual defense treaty,” he said.
The US ambassador was at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City Monday to attend the blessing of the second C-130 cargo plane bought by the Philippine government from the US.
Besides Duterte’s separation statement that he announced before a group of Chinese businessmen in Beijing, Goldberg said the US government is also seeking clarification on the status of the cooperation and agreements that the two countries had.
“We need to explore and we’re willing to discuss it in a very constructive way but some of the language we’ve heard is not at all consistent,” the envoy added.
“We’ve always treated the Philippines as a coequal. It’s a sovereign country and you make decisions on where, what you believe is in the interest of the Philippines. We don’t believe for example that because you want better relations with other countries, that it’s a zero sum game and that the United States, which is an old friend and ally of the Philippines, it needs to be, to decide in the process,” he said.
The ambassador said the US believes that all countries in the region should have good relations, including China.
America, he explained, has a hugely important relationship with China and “we think other countries should as well.”
He called Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada’s warning that the US may oust Duterte because of his anti-US stance absurd.