MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had provided him with a personal assurance that Beijing would not allow him to be removed from office.
"The assurances of Xi are very encouraging: we will not allow you to be taken out from your office and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs," Duterte said in a speech on Tuesday (May 15).
Duterte is approaching the end of the second year of his six-year term as president. While the Philippine constitution bars presidents from serving more than one term, Duterte has repeatedly rejected calls from his allies to try to seek another term. He has even suggested that he would like to cut short his time in office.
Duterte, who did not say when Xi made the remarks, met with Xi on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan Province in China on April 10. It was Duterte's third meeting with Xi since he took office at the end of June 2016.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, questioned whether Xi's assurances were the reason why Duterte was making use of substantial Chinese loans, and his reluctance to criticise Beijing's actions in the South China Sea.
"Is China support for this administration to ensure its iron clad grip on power? Whose interest is being pursued by depending on China?" Pangilinan said in a statement.
Duterte spent most of his hour-long speech on Tuesday afternoon aboard a navy vessel justifying his decision to set aside a July 2016 international court ruling dismissing China's claims to more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea in a case brought by his predecessor Benigno Aquino.
Recalling how "the ever cool guy" Xi had convinced him to focus on restoring relations between the Philippines and China, Duterte said the more "you remain meek and humble" with the likes of Xi, the more you stand to gain.
The brash Philippine leader, who has presided over a deadly drug war that has killed thousands, said his mindset regarding the South China Sea was to get whatever he can, such as a joint exploration agreement for an estimated 4 trillion of cubic feet of natural gas.
And despite his past praise for US President Donald Trump, Duterte lambasted US "hypocrisy," saying he doesn't want to deal with Washington before adding that he was "playing geopolitics with everybody." In what could be a prelude to forging military ties with China, Duterte said that if the Philippines ever ran out of soldiers, he would ask Xi to send over three battalions of fully-geared troops.