PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday assured the diplomatic community that his administration will nurture “existing friendships” even as it pursues new ties with other countries.
Duterte made the statement in the “Vin d’Honneur” reception in Malacañang, sharing a toast with the country’s leaders and foreign envoys.
In his speech, the President said the Philippines is seeking “constructive engagement” with the world.
“We value partners as we seek strengthened existing friendships even as we pursue new ones. We believe that friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals,” he said.
“In truth, we all share the same aspiration of greater peace, progress, and prosperity,” the President added.
Duterte has threatened to cut ties with the United States after American officials criticized his bloody war on drugs.
At the same time, he is seeking to repair ties with Washington’s rival, Beijing, which was strained by disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). During a visit to China in October, he said relations with Beijing had entered “springtime.”
‘Friendship knows no bounds’
Duterte told diplomats in Malacañang he wished for “deeper and more meaningful engagements with our partners and friends.”
“In a world that recognizes our interconnectedness and respects each other’s sovereign independence, the horizons and frontiers of cooperation are virtually limitless,” the President said.
“Friendship, after all, knows no bounds. The Philippines has and will continue to build on our friendship founded on common objectives, shared values and time-honored principles of international law. Let us together work to further expand the areas of mutual beneficial collaboration,” he added.
Duterte reaffirmed his commitment to fight poverty, corruption and illegal drugs.
“I stay true to the mandate reposed on me. The administration will remain firm in its resolve to hold the corrupt accountable for their deeds. We will make criminals responsible for their actions and we will work very, very hard to finally break the apparatus of the illegal drugs trade,” Duterte added.
The President also pushed for lasting peace in Mindanao “to finally bring to an end one of the longest-running revolutions in the world.”
Uttering the words “Kampai! Bottom’s up,” the President proposed a toast.
Amid laughs from his audience, he explained: “In sub-diplomatic gatherings, especially in Asia, we say ‘kampai.’ It’s always ‘bottom’s up.’ So be careful of our Asian brothers and sisters. When they say ‘kampai,’ no, just [drink]half of the kampai.”
Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, the apostolic nuncio and dean of the diplomatic corps, delivered a cordial response and extended his gratitude to the Duterte administration for making the envoys feel welcome in the Philippines.
“Mr. President, the word ‘solidarity’ means much in this country and we, members of the diplomatic corps, feel that we were part of the Filipino people, of its hospitality and its determination to face the challenges of growth, adversities brought about by forces of nature or arising from events that take place,” Pinto said.
Duterte’s Cabinet officials, led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, were in full force at the Vin d’Honneur held in the Palace’s Rizal Hall.
However, only a few lawmakers shared a toast with the President, including Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Cynthia Villar.
Spotted at the reception were United States Ambassador Sung Kim, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev.
Amid a rift with the administration, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was not spotted during the New Year reception.
Robredo’s camp claimed the Palace retracted the invitation it received through e-mail on December 28, 2016.
“On January 4, Malacañang called the Office to retract the invitation, stating that the guest list was limited,” Robredo’s spokeswoman Georgina Hernandez said in a statement.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “It is the prerogative of the Palace to invite those who they feel is needed to be there.”
It was not the first time Robredo was not seen in an event attended by vice presidents in past administrations. She was also not seen at the flag-raising ceremony to commemorate Rizal Day on December 31, 2016, which was led by the President.
Robredo’s relationship with Duterte and his administration turned sour after she criticized the drug war and the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
The vice president resigned as housing chief in December after she was barred from attending Cabinet meetings.
WITH A REPORT FROM LLANESCA T. PANTI