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Duterte dares US, Australia to cut ties

Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely  FILE PHOTOS

Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely FILE PHOTOS

KALIBO, Aklan—Trash-talking presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte has dared the United States and Australia to cut diplomatic ties with the Philippines after their ambassadors criticized his joke about the jailhouse rape of a missionary.

Duterte also told the ambassadors to “shut their mouths” and not to “interfere” in the elections as controversy continued to rage over his comments in which he said he wanted to have been the first to rape Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill, who was gang-raped and murdered in a prison riot in Davao City in 1989.

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“If I become the President, go ahead and sever it (diplomatic ties),” Duterte, 71, said on the campaign trail on Wednesday night, referring to the relationships with the United States and Australia, two of the Philippines’ closest allies.

“It was not a joke when I uttered it (in 1989). They took it as a joke when I narrated it. These ambassadors are stupid. I was mad when I uttered it. When I narrated it, I was not angry anymore,” Duterte told reporters after a rally attended by 6,000 supporters in Kalibo, Aklan province.

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Tough-on-crime pitch

Duterte, who while campaigning had called Pope Francis a “son of a bitch” and promised to kill thousands of criminals, recounted at a rally in Quezon City on April 12 the riot events as part of his tough-on-crime pitch to voters.

“They raped all of the women … there was this Australian lay minister … when they took them out … I saw her face and I thought, ‘Son of a bitch. What a pity… they raped her, they all lined up,” he told the crowd.

“I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first,” he said.

Duterte was at the time mayor of Davao City, where he is accused of running vigilante death squads that have allegedly killed more than 1,000 people.

The front-runner in voter preference polls for the presidential election on May 9 has at times on the campaign trail boasted about running the death squads, claiming they killed 1,700 people, but also denied any links to them.

Ambassadors react

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Duterte has similarly offered varying responses to the rape comments, with his media team releasing a statement in which he apologized. But on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly told reporters he would not apologize.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely criticized his remarks, saying in a statement on Twitter: “Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.”

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg later agreed with her, saying in a television interview that “statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone.”

“It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths,” Duterte said in reaction in his campaign speech in Kalibo.

“You’re not Filipinos. Shut up. Do not interfere because it’s election time,” he said.

Reminded by reporters later about his earlier campaign statement that if elected President, he would ask help from the Philippines’ allies should China attack the country over the South China Sea dispute, he said he was not worried about the effects of his statements on diplomatic ties.

“That’s their problem, not mine. I never interfered in their elections,” he said.

Assuming that the ambassadors were right, he said, they should not have spoken during election time.

“It will show that you’re politicking. If you want, you call me. I will not apologize. I will not go to you for any talks. I am a Filipino and I will chart the [future] of my country,” he said.

Aquino defends alliances

A spokesperson for the US Embassy  on Thursday said there was no immediate response to Duterte’s remarks about the ambassadors. An Australian Embassy spokesperson said there would be no comment.

President Aquino, speaking to reporters in Lipa City, criticized Duterte’s remarks, saying  the United States has always been among the Philippines’ top three trading partners while Australia has been helping the government’s peace process in Mindanao.

“He (Duterte) comes from Mindanao and I am sure he would want to have lasting peace in Mindanao,” Mr. Aquino said.

The President said Duterte could not just say something because he “felt like saying it,” referring to the Davao mayor’s frequent acknowledgment of his foul language.

Voters should learn from such remarks, the President said, adding: “I believe the public knows how to make the right decision.”

Lawyer Martin Loon, a national security expert, said Duterte’s statement about severing ties with the Philippines’ closest allies was almost like steering the country toward “isolationism.”

“Candidates who seek to destroy, strain or otherwise adversely affect our harmonious and longstanding ties with foreign nations that can be considered key allies on several fronts are very disturbing,” Loon said.

He said Duterte appeared to be a “threat to national security.”

 

‘So strange’

Security expert Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines said it was “so strange for a presidential aspirant to utter immature statements against allies like the United States and Australia.”

Cabalza said it seemed  Duterte was not well versed in foreign policy and the significance of alliances.

This is not the first time that Duterte has taken a stand against allies of the Philippines. In the past decade, he consistently refused to allow US-Philippine war games to be held in Davao and he most recently rejected proposals to make the city a launching site for US drones.

Duterte’s anti-US stance, which has endeared him to left-leaning activists but made other sectors wary of him, dates back to May 16, 2002, when a bomb went off at Hotel Evergreen in Davao City.

Police investigators traced the bomb to American Michael Meiring, who was injured in the explosion and was taken to a hospital.

Police brought criminal charges against Meiring, but weeks later, alleged agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation spirited the American out of the hospital, flew him to Singapore and eventually to the United States.

Duterte was furious and he had since been accusing the United States of running covert operations against Moro rebels in Mindanao.

 

South China Sea row

In another warning to the United States and Australia, Duterte’s camp signaled it was prepared to change foreign policy and start direct talks with China over the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

President Aquino has been improving defense ties with the United States and Australia to bolster the Philippines’ position in its territorial dispute with China.

But Duterte’s spokesperson Peter Laviña said in a television interview on Thursday that the mayor would be prepared to talk directly with China.

President Aquino has refused direct talks with China over the territorial dispute, preferring multilateral discussions and challenging China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea in the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Laviña said Duterte was “supporting multilateral efforts to rein in China but at the same time, added the mayor was open to bilateral talks.”

He said Duterte was willing to dialogue with China about “joint development of the resources of the South China Sea.”

“Eventually, we need China’s investments and technology,” he said.

 

‘Go to hell, Gabriela’

The women’s group, Gabriela, filed a complaint against Duterte in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday over the rape joke, accusing the mayor of violating a law that protects women’s rights and eliminating all forms of discrimination.

Duterte dismissed the complaint as “silly” and told Gabriela to “go to hell.”

“You are crazy,” the mayor said, referring to Gabriela.

Later, campaigning in Cebu, Duterte described Gabriela as “dumb.”

“They brought a human rights case against me, maybe they had been paid, the sons of bitches,” he said.

Duterte called the CHR “stupid” for issuing summons to him less than three weeks before the election.

“I am a candidate for the presidency. Why are you summoning me and what is your ground? Hoy, you sons of bitches, there’s nothing more I can do about your stupidity,” he said.

He said he would not answer the CHR summons, adding the commission showed disrespect not only toward him but also toward his supporters.

He said people may criticize him for his “bad mouth,” but he insisted he was exercising his right to free speech.

Duterte urged voters to look beyond his trash-talking, saying his foul language was not an election issue.

“The issue should be corruption. Where is the people’s money?” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.  With reports from Nikko Dizon in Manila; Nestor Corrales, Inquirer.net; and AFP

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