VIENTIANE, Laos – If he didn't ditch his prepared speech, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte would have done another unexpected thing at the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.
Had he not delivered a "passionate" speech on human rights, Duterte on Thursday, September 8, would have urged respect for the historic ruling won by the Philippines over the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte's undelivered intervention at the 11th East Asia Summit cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the basis of the landmark ruling that favored the Philippines.
Duterte would have said, "We can be open to exploring other options to settle disputes, provided that these are in accord with international law and ASEAN core values."
"This includes full respect for legal and diplomatic processes recognized under the UN Charter, international law including UNCLOS, and the recent arbitral award on the South China Sea which is now part of international jurisprudence relative to the maritime domain. These provide and support a rules-based approach for resolving maritime disputes," the President would have added.
Duterte earlier said he had no plans of bringing up the West Philippine Sea dispute during the ASEAN Summit in Laos.
The President, after all, had stressed the need for a "soft landing" in the sea dispute, as Manila tries to boost ties with Beijing.
'Passionate' speech on human rights
Duterte ended up not reading his prepared speech, a government insider confirmed to Rappler.
Instead of delivering the original intervention drafted for him, Duterte gave what diplomats described as a "fiery" address to leaders of the 18-nation East Asia group, including US President Barack Obama.
Duterte launched into a tirade about US military killings in the Philippines when it was an American colony from 1898 to 1946, according to 3 diplomats in the room, who spoke with wire agency Agence France-Presse.
The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and he said: "This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights?" an Indonesian delegate said.
The delegate described the atmosphere in the room as "quiet and shocked.” Another diplomat described the speech as "normal Duterte."
In Indonesia, where Duterte headed Thursday night for a visit, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr confirmed that Duterte showed photos of alleged human rights atrocities in Mindanao during his turn at the East Asia Summit.
He denied reports, however, that the atmosphere grew tense when Duterte did this.
Explaining Duterte's speech on human rights, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, "In the passionate intervention of President Duterte, he underscored the need to take a long historical view of human rights, mindful of the atrocities against the ethnic people of Mindanao."
"Even as we continue to comply with our constitutional requirements in the observance of due process and respect for human rights, he is committed to combating the spread of illegal drugs to ensure the security and well being of the next generation," the DFA added. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.