Philippine senators cut across party lines to warn Duterte against cutting ties with US

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 20, 2016.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Cutting across party lines, Philippine senators on Friday (Oct 21) warned President Rodrigo Duterte of the implications of cutting ties with the United States, saying such a presidential pronouncement should have been well-studied and well-thought out and not simply "blurted out".

"Any drastic shift in our foreign policy direction should be well-thought out and not simply blurted out. It should be a product of deep study and wide discussion. Because of its far-reaching implications, it cannot be an announce now, study later thing," Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said in a statement.

Mr Recto said crafting an independent foreign policy requires introspection, and not impetuousness.

"Yes, our relations with the United States may not be perfect. But a country which has illegally built a great wall of sand in our seas is not, and far from, the epitome of a good friend either," he said.

Mr Recto said foreign policy rebalancing should not mean dumping old friends for new suitors as he urged the government to practice "big-tent diplomacy" by welcoming all, and shunning no one."The national interest is served by extending amity to all, and hostility to none," he said.

As to Mr Duterte's plan to join forces with Russia and China, Mr Recto said the Philippines should first fix its traffic problem "before we insert ourselves in the power games of nuclear states."

Neophyte Senator Joel Villanueva, who is part of the majority bloc in the Senate, said cutting economic ties with the US would have "significant negative impact" on the Philippine economy, especially in the IT-BPO sector, which he said has created more than 1.1 million jobs in a US$25 billion (S$34.83 billion) industry.

"The President doesn't have to choose between the US and China in terms of economic partnership. We should be more careful and thoughtful in making pronouncements. The president represents the country and his statements become the policy," Mr Villanueva said in a separate statement.

"In addition, the president should consult his Cabinet before making statements like this because this has huge implications. We are relying on the president to give us clear and strategic policies, not abrupt and off-the-cuff remarks that can have significant negative impact to the welfare of the nation," he added.

Another majority member, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, also expressed concern on the economic backlash of the president's decision to separate from the US.

"I am concerned especially on the economic backlash. The US is still the biggest trading partner of the Philippines and also the BPOs, which employ about a million Filipinos, is a cause for concern," Mr Ejercito said."This matter should have been studied thoroughly. We could pursue an independent foreign policy without necessarily cutting ties with the US," he said.

Senator Grace Poe said, "We should maintain old bridges as we build new ones."

Mr Duterte's vocal critic, Senator Leila de Lima, had a mouthful for him, saying he was not God to put himself above the sovereignty of the people.

"It's one thing to keep your Cabinet members in the dark - which is deeply troubling in itself - but it's a whole level of betrayal to keep that from the Filipino people, and to announce it for the first time in front of foreigners," Ms De Lima said.

Mr Duterte announced his decision to cut ties with the US during an economic forum in Beijing on Thursday (Oct 20).

Borrowing Senator Richard Gordon's quote, Ms De Lima said what the President did was a "material concealment" from the Filipino people.

She also taunted the president, who she said has a "really inflated, if not delusional, view of himself as a strongman at the level of China and Russia's leadership".

"Don't sell the Filipinos to an ideology that will shun the freedom they love and the democratic living they enjoy under our Constitution. You promised to abide by the Constitution, do it. You have no right to put yourself above the sovereignty of the people. You are not God," Ms De Lima said.