Jul 17, 2024

News and Views from Manila

August 16, 2023 - The attempt by former president Rodrigo Duterte to use the China card to gain a prominent role in the Marcos administration and protect himself from the International Criminal Court got aborted just when his cohorts in the Senate were about to launch it.

The embarrassing thing about the flop is that it was his benefactor, China, that ruined it. That was the water cannoning by Chinese ships of the Philippine boats bringing supplies to the Marines on AyunginShoal.

Duterte’s plan to use the China card was manifested on July 17 when Xinhua, China’s news agency, reported the meeting of the former president with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It came on the eve of ICC’s release of its decision rejecting the petition of the Philippine government to stop the probe on the killings that constitute crime against humanity related to Duterte’s war on drugs. The investigation includes the period when he was mayor of Davao City.

Malacañang was not informed about Duterte’s trip to Beijing. Actually, a former president is a private citizen and is not required to inform Malacañang of his personal activities. But since he was meeting with an incumbent leader of another country, propriety dictates that the Office of the President be informed about it.

But then propriety has never been Duterte’s strong suit.

There were even talks that the Beijing trip was a precautionary move by Duterte to evade a possible warrant of arrest just in case ICC decides to issue it following its decision to continue the probe.

The Xinhua report said Xi praised Duterte’s “strategic choice of improving relations with China” when he was president and expressed the hope “that Duterte will continue to play an important role in the friendly cooperation between the two countries.”

Shortly after the former president’s return from Beijing, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Foreign secretary during the Duterte presidency, suggested making Duterte “the country's special envoy to China to help reach out on a back-channel basis given his good standing with the Chinese government.”

This was immediately supported by Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, who is named in one of the documents submitted to the ICC as having played a major role in the killings.

The ICC probe documents said that Go, who served as executive assistant and personal aide to then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, on several instances, was the one who relayed the latter’s orders to kill to the Davao Death Squad, which was allegedly carrying out the extrajudicial killings for the local chief executive.

On Aug. 2, Duterte, accompanied by Go and former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, went to see President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang.

The report of the Presidential Communications Office on the meeting said: “Aside from discussing Duterte’s meeting with Xi, the two leaders also talked about other issues. The former president likewise gave some good pieces of advice to President Marcos.”

It was Sen. JV Ejercito who shared with ANC what Marcos told him about the meeting with Duterte. According to Ejercito, Duterte told Marcos that he told Xi, “Please be kind to my country.”

This is horrifying! Why would the Philippines seek kindness from China? We should demand respect and adherence to the rule of law, not kindness.

Such a subservient attitude towards China is not surprising from Duterte, and should disqualify him from the position of special envoy to China.

Apparently, Duterte’s appeal to Xi fell on deaf ears because on Aug. 5, the Philippine Coast Guard reported “the China Coast Guard's (CCG's) dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons against the PCG vessels escorting the indigenous boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines” bringing supplies to the Marines in the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The latest hostile act of Chinese ships against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea drew condemnations from several countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japanand the United States.

Since then nothing was heard from the Cayetano-Go recommended “special envoy to China.”

Ellen Tordesillas is trustee and writer of VERA Files (verafiles.org), a group that undertakes in-depth reporting on current issues and does Fact-checking to fight disinformation. She writes opinion columns which appear in Malaya Business Insight, ABS-CBN online and VERA Files.  As a reporter, she has covered education and health and science, the PCGG  and foreign affairs beat before she was assigned to cover politics. She has covered all Philippine elections since the 1986 snap elections that triggered the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos. She continues to watch closely anything relevant to the Filipino people.

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