BEIJING, Philippines – Cabinet secretaries sought to put out fires following President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of his “separation” from the United States both militarily and economically.
Asked by media for comment, Cabinet officials advised reporters on how to interpret the President's words.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said that Duterte was not "super accurate" when he used the word "separation."
The President meant an economic "rebalance" to Asia. (READ: Duterte bringing home $24B worth of deals from China)
"It's not a separation…You have to parse it as a rebalancing, as a restructuring of economic relations from too much dependence on the West," Pernia told reporters on Friday, October 21.
"The Asian region is the growth area of this century and China is a major player in this growth area and, for a long time, we have not taken very seriously our economic relations with China. This time, we feel we should engage with China stronger," said Pernia.
Rejuvenating economic ties with China translates to "a broadening [of] our investment and trade base," he added. (READ: Duterte vs US: PH to lose 3rd largest trading partner)
Pernia has not been able to consult with Duterte after his speech but he is confident about his interpretation.
"We know that, that is what he means because he has said that before and that’s how we interpret it. The President has a strong economic team and whatever economic pronouncements are made, it's really the economic team that makes the final say," he said.
Mirroring Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez's statement, Pernia said trade with the US won't stop.
"It will continue. BPOs (business process outsourcing) will not be touched, they have provided us with foreign exchange that is now even higher or it's going to be higher than OFW (overseas Filipino workers) remittances," he said.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr interpreted Duterte's "separation" as just a repetition of his previous statements of departing from a "colonial mentality" toward the West.
"[Duterte] had always been saying this all along. We were separating from that colonial mentality from dependence so it is in that context that he said we are opening up to other countries," said Yasay.
Meanwhile, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar cautioned media against interpreting the separation as an "annulment" of husband and wife.
"It's like a father and son, the son has to marry and move to another house. The US was a father to us for a long time but it is timely for us to move out of that house and secure our own house and decide for ourselves," Andanar told reporters.
Asked if China was the Philippines' "new big brother," Andanar said, "China is not only a friend, China is not only a relative but China is a big brother." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.