‘Just saying what needs to be said’ – Pacquiao on West Philippine Sea remarks
Fifty-five weeks before he steps down from office, President Duterte jabbed back at Sen. Manny Pacquiao, belittling the senator’s intelligence and suggesting that the former champion boxer first study hard before making comments on foreign policy.
But the 42-year-old senator dodged the jibes of the 76-year-old leader and unleashed his own counterpunch by reminding the President that he was only exercising his right as a Filipino to speak his mind, particularly when national sovereignty is put on the line.
“I respect the President’s opinion but humbly disagree with his assessment of my understanding of foreign policy. I am a Filipino voicing out what needs to be said in defense of what has been adjudicated as rightfully ours,” Pacquiao said in a statement.
“I firmly believe that my statement reflects the sentiment of the majority of the Filipinos, that we should stand strong in protecting our sovereign rights while pursuing a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the dispute,” the senator added.
Pacquiao earlier said that Mr. Duterte’s stance on the disputed waters had softened compared to when he was running for the presidency and promised to “jet ski” to the Spratly Islands and plant the Philippine flag.
“We have heard him say during the elections that he was going to ride a jet ski carrying the Philippine flag to the Spratlys. Of course, I knew it in my heart that I would vote for him because he’s the kind of President we need; someone who will fight for our country,” Pacquiao said.
But the reminder of a failed promise prompted the President to demean the senator on a television interview with his ally, evangelist Apollo Quiboloy, after initially saying he did not want to “degrade” Pacquiao.
“Apparently this guy has a very shallow knowledge,” the President said. “It’s about foreign policy. I would not want to degrade him, but next time he should [study hard first before coming in],” Mr. Duterte said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
The President himself had no experience in diplomacy or foreign policy before he was elected in 2016 and kicked off his first diplomatic mission abroad by cursing then US President Barack Obama, the leader of the country’s oldest ally.
Mr. Duterte even continued to rant against the United States in his interview with Quiboloy.
He blamed Washington for brokering a deal that led the Philippines to withdraw from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012.
“America brokered [the agreement] and we withdrew, but why didn’t they also compel China to withdraw?” he asked.
“Unless they can explain it to me in a very simple way that the entire Philippines understands, then I can begin to talk about their foreign forces. But if not, it’s [Visiting Forces Agreement extension] unlikely. We are really being treated crudely by the Americans,” Mr. Duterte said.
Pivot to China
The exchange between Mr. Duterte and Pacquiao appeared to stem from Palace moves aimed to promote the presidential aspirations of the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, and seemed like an early test of political clout.
Pacquiao was elected by over 16 million votes in 2016, the same as the President, who is the country’s second minority president after former President Fidel Ramos, who was elected in 1992.
But the Duterte administration is hounded by controversies arising from the President’s pivot to China and its resulting foreign and economic policies.
More than 2 million farmers were affected by the administration’s rice tariffication scheme, while about 300,000 hog raisers were dislocated by import tariff cuts. Some 300,000 fishermen saw their livelihood undermined by Chinese incursions, and some 3.4 million farmers were considered to have been marginalized by a new law on the coconut levy fund.
The President’s brutal war on drugs, which has claimed the lives of thousands since 2016, has drawn local and international condemnation.
Local officials, particularly in areas where the administration has become unpopular, have been quietly organizing in favor of Pacquiao, including in Mindanao where both the President and the senator hail from.