Duterte: PH to strengthen old friendships as it forges new ones
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will strengthen its existing friendships even as it strives to forge new ones, President Rodrigo Duterte assured the international community on Wednesday, January 11.
Duterte gave the assurance to foreign dignitaries as he gave his brief remarks at his first New Year's Day Vin d'Honneur as Chief Executive.
Addressing about 80 ambassadors who attended the event, Duterte emphasized his foreign policy of forging new partnerships with other countries.
"We value partners as we seek to strengthen existing friendships even as we pursue new ones," told his guests who included US Ambassador Sung Kim, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev.
"We believe that friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals. In truth, we all share the same aspiration of greater peace, progress and prosperity," the President added.
In the first few months of his administration, Duterte announced he would pursue an "independent foreign policy" seen as a separation from the Philippines' oldest and most powerful ally, the US, in favor of closer ties with China and Russia.
At the time, the Philippine leader was angered by outgoing US President Barack Obama's criticism of possible human rights abuses in his war on drugs.
In his toast, which he read from a prepared speech, Duterte said if countries "respect each other's sovereign independence, the horizons and frontiers of cooperation are virtually limitless. Friendship, after all, knows no bounds."
Duterte also mentioned the Philippines' chairmanship this year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The country will host year-long meetings and events after its chairmanship is officially launched on Sunday, January 15.
Meaningful change in 2017
Duterte welcomed 2017 with "hope for positive and meaningful change" and declared his unflagging determination to fulfill his promises to Filipinos.
"The administration will remain firm in its resolve to hold the corrupt accountable for their deeds, we will make criminals responsible for their actions, and we will work very, very hard to finally break the appartus of the illegal drugs trade," he said.
While he read his prepared speech in full, Duterte's casual side popped up when he raised his glass to lead others in the toast. "Kampai! Bottoms up!" he announced, before downing his glass of apple cider.
The typical Duterte casualness drew laughter from his audience. The President could not resist making a joke before he left the podium.
"You know, in the sub-diplomatic gatherings, we just say kampai, it's always bottom's up. So be careful with our Asian brothers and sisters, when they say 'kampai,' say, 'No, just half of the kampai,'" he said, again eliciting chuckles from the room.
Nearly a hundred people attended the Palace event, but the second highest official in the land – a regular fixture in past receptions – was not at the Palace Ceremonial Hall.
Palace chief protocol officer Marciano Paynor could not say if Robredo was invited or not. Her spokesperson, Georgina Hernandez, said in a statement that the Vice President was invited, then disinvited, to the event because of guest limitations. (READ: Robredo disinvited to Palace Vin d'Honneur)
Robredo's relationship with the Palace was strained by a series of controversies. It started when she was barred from Cabinet meetings because of what Malacañang described as her "irreconcilable differences" with the President, prompting her resignation from Duterte's Cabinet.
Communication Secretary Martin Andanar recently linked her camp with a supposed "destabilization plot" against Duterte. Before that, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella criticized Robredo for calling Typhoon Nina rehabilitation efforts "slow."
Aside from Robredo, another top government official absent from the New Year's Day call was Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who was reportedly abroad.
About 94 people – ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, and heads of government agencies – attended the first Vin d'Honneur under the Duterte administration.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, and Senator Cynthia Villar were among the lawmakers present. – Rappler.com