By Daniel Llanto, FilAm Star Correspondent
President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he had been talking with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and had a brief discussion with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the subject of breaking loose from the U.S. and bringing the Philippines to closer ties with Russia and China, both of which the U.S. is at odds with on several issues.
“I’ve been talking with Prime Minister Medvedev. (We did a) one-on-one … (without anybody knowing it.)” Duterte said, adding that he told the Russian leader next to President Vladimir Putin in unequivocal terms: “I think I am about to cross the Rubicon between me and the U.S., at least for the six years (of my term). I would need your help and everything… Trade, commerce… I will open up.’”
Duterte said he had also talked once with Xi Jinping and will visit China next month for further discussion with the Chinese leader. The President declared that he is willing to embrace China, a strategic rival of the US, as he shrugged off a warning from debt-watcher Standard and Poor’s that his bloody war on drugs and tough rhetoric raised questions on the predictability of the country’s economic policies.
“I have talked to Xi Jinping. I’m going to China. I will open up all avenues of trade and commerce. They can come in,” Duterte said.
Duterte said the Philippines may need Russia’s help if the Philippines distances itself from the United States.
Apart from S&Ps warning that it sees no upgrade in the Philippine credit rating for the next two years, Duterte announced his plan to seek closer economic ties with China and Russia as the Philippine peso hit a seven-year low which analysts say was connected to growing investor concern over Duterte’s unpredictability.
Asked what he meant by “crossing the Rubicon” with the US, Duterte pointed to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which allows the U.S. to come to the rescue should the Philippines be attacked by another country.
“But in the U.S. Constitution, it says that before a president can declare war with anybody in defense of an ally, he has to get Congress’ permission to go to war. That is the problem,” he said, adding, “ (If) Congress will not give him authority. What will happen to us?”
Insisting that he will pursue an “independent foreign policy,” Duterte earlier asked that U.S. forces in Mindanao to leave the country, only to take it back later, saying that the Philippines needs the U.S. against China over the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Duterte’s latest tirade is yet another indication that the Philippine-U.S. ties will be put to severe test under the new Filipino leader.
The tough-talking President has been warm towards Beijing despite the latter’s actions in the South China Sea, such as the blocking of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal off Zambales province.
He even said it would be “very undiplomatic” for the Philippines to demand from China that it allow Filipino fishermen to enter the resources-rich shoal.
Duterte is set to visit China and Japan in October, Palace officials said. He said he may also later go to Russia to meet Putin.
The latest tirades by Duterte towards the U.S. came before the scheduled joint exercises between the two allies in October. Duterte said there is nothing he can do about it, as he does not want to embarrass Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“There’s supposed to be a war game, it is already there. (I don’t want to embarrass) Defense Secretary Lorenzana. (Our) military (can) go ahead,” he said. Nonetheless, he stressed his position ruling out participation in any joint patrols with the US in the disputed sea.
The President’s aides and the military also maintained that Duterte’s statements did not indicate a policy shift.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Charles Jose downplayed observations that Duterte was leaning towards China at the expense of the U.S. He said the President was charting an “independent” foreign policy as prescribed by the Constitution.
“The meaning of independent foreign policy is: we will not subject ourselves to outside pressure. We have to balance our relations,” Jose said.