Aquino on Duterte 1st year: Cooperation, not conflict, is better route

Pia Ranada
Former president Benigno Aquino III says his successor 'bears ultimate responsibility' for the words he lets loose

ONE YEAR AFTER. Former president Benigno Aquino III responds to questions in an interview with Rappler's Maria Ressa a year after he stepped down from office. Rappler screenshot

MANILA, Philippines – Cooperation, not conflict, should define the Philippines’ ties with other countries.

This was what former president Benigno Aquino III had to say about how the nation’s international relations have fared after a year under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Aquino, in an exclusive interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa after a year of self-imposed silence after he stepped down from office, was asked how he thought the Philippines fared after one year under Duterte.

After noting the continuation of his administration’s economic policies, Aquino pointed out the upheavals in the Philippines’ ties with certain countries.

“In terms of international relations there has been a spate of conflicts that have transpired and I’m not a believer in fostering conflicts,” said Aquino, who agreed that some of the good will he had fostered in the international community had crumbled under his successor.

“Where we want to build something, normally, cooperation is a better route to it,” he added.

While he did not specify any country or incident, Duterte’s tirades against Western nations and international organizations are well known.

He had told former United States president Barack Obama to “go to hell” and had flashed his middle finger at European Union lawmakers in public addresses. He had also called the United Nations hypocritical and labeled former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria an “idiot” for giving him unsolicited advice.

The curse-laden rants were usually prompted by criticism of his bloody drug war or his administration’s bid to revive the death penalty. (READ: The 100-day word war: How Duterte handles criticism)

Hope for change

Asked to comment on these insults, Aquino said of Duterte, “Iba style niya eh (His style is different).”

But ultimately, he said, the President is responsible for whatever words he lets loose.

“It’s very clear that for his actions, he is also responsible. Now, at the end of the day, you do certain things. Does it add to your efficiency in your job or does it detract?  Then it doesn’t behoove me to tell him, especially for somebody who is older than me, that you should do this, or you should do that. He bears ultimate responsibility,” he said.

Aquino hopes the Duterte administration’s seeming penchant for conflict with some countries will take the backseat in the remaining years ahead.

“Hopefully that will change and that better relations with everybody, less conflicts, will open up a lot of doors of opportunities for our country and our countrymen,” said the former president.

The Duterte administration, when faced with such criticism, has said the President is forging an independent foreign policy that would keep traditional allies like the United States while strengthening ties with other partners like China and Russia. This has led to the “full recovery” of bilateral ties with China.

During Aquino’s watch, the Philippines forged even stronger ties with the US under the Obama administration with the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality 6 months before Aquino stepped down.

Continued policies

Aquino lauded Duterte for continuing his administration’s economic policies, widely credited for successive improvements in the country’s credit ratings and high GDP (gross domestic product) growth rates.

“At least he made a promise of continuing the economic policies, and to a large degree, I think we have continued. At least they haven’t disturbed what has been put in place,” said Aquino.

He added that the economic momentum set by his administration was expected to last until the first semester of 2018 “assuming no seismic shocks.”

He also cited the continuation of the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the current administration.

“I think the modernization of the AFP is still being undertaken and in directions that are resulting from a plan,” said Aquino.

In its first defense budget, the Duterte administration allotted P25 billion for AFP modernization, the same amount the Aquino government previously allotted.

Duterte, in speeches, has promised to procure more night-capable helicopters, fast boats, and light combat aircrafts as his administration continues to face terrorism and a communist insurgency. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.