Malacañang on Thursday said the Philippines will continue to strengthen its economic ties with other countries, amid fears that the United States may impose economic sanctions on the country after President Rodrigo Duterte’s critical statements.
“We understand [those fears]. The President is strengthening his relationship with our neighboring countries and this is part of being more inclusive in our economic relationships,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella told a Palace press briefing.
The President insinuated that he’s about to cross a “point of no return” in the Philippines’ relations with the United States, saying he would build new alliances China and Russia to sustain the country’s economy.
Duterte, who is set to visit China next month, said he “will open up all avenues of trade and commerce” between the two countries.
Abella also clarified Duterte’s statements for Filipinos “to sacrifice a little bit” once he sign agreements with Beijing, should Washington impose sanctions on the country.
“I believe that our relationships go deeper than that. However, given the fear, he was asking, would the Filipinos believe enough in the nation to set an independent course in spite of economic difficulties if and when it should happen,” Abella said.
“He’s not saying it will, but he said if and when it does happen, would we be willing enough? Would we be patriotic enough to stand behind the Philippines in declaring an independent foreign policy?” he added.
The President also accused the United States of “manipulating the peso,” following observations made by global credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s last week that the country is not likely to get a rating upgrade in the next two years because of his unpredictability and uncertainty over his domestic and foreign policies.
Talks of possible economic sanctions occurred after Washington warned Manila that they might cancel the $6.7-million (â‚±322 million) law enforcement aid it pledged to the Philippines if the two countries fail to agree on how it will be used.
“If no agreement is reached, the funds may be used in a country other than the Philippines,” US Embassy press attaché and first secretary Molly Koscina told CNN Philippines on Monday.
The amount is part of the $32 million (â‚±1.5 billion) Washington earlier pledged to Manila during the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry. However, the money cannot finance police operations to hunt down drug criminals, contrary to President Rodrigo Duterte’s requests.
“The funds will strictly comply with US legal obligations and international law enforcement and policing standards,” Koscina said. “These funds are for programs supporting the rule of law, due process and maritime security. The funds are not for law-enforcement operations.”
A Palace source said the President “was irked” by Washington’s “so-called conditions.”
In various speeches this week, the President repeatedly stressed that while Washington knew well about the drug problem, they didn’t care to listen.
“The monkeys in America knew the magnitude of our drug problem. Instead of helping us, the State Department and the European Union criticized me on human rights and wanted me jailed,” Duterte said in Hanoi.
Duterte has insisted that Washington was trying to meddle in Philippine affairs and it had no right to “lecture” him about human rights.
Abella, however, said that US and Philippine relations remain strong despite political misunderstanding, despite the statements by two US senators that no amount of killings will result in reforms in the judiciary.
US Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Senator Benjamin Cardin (Maryland) said criticism about Duterte’s war against drugs “may have fallen on deaf ears” when the President chose not to hold law enforcers accountable for alleged summary executions and failing to address problems of drug dependence.
“We would like to stress that the fundamental relationship between the US and the Philippines remains unchanged by aberrations due to political perspective and opinions. We continue to surge forward even as we attempt a deeper understanding of each other’s methods,” Abella said.
“We respect the opinion of others but we also give ourselves the permission to chart our own course and fulfill our destiny on our own terms. We’d also like to stress that extrajudicial killings are not state-sanctioned and that the Philippines remains committed to human rights, the rule of law, and to democracy,” he added.