'Jet ski' Duterte denies he vowed to pressure China on West PH Sea in 2016 campaign

President Rodrigo Duterte denied ever promising Filipinos that he would pressure China on the West Philippine Sea during the 2016 campaign.

He made this claim during a public address on Monday, May 3, which he started off with a long rant about criticisms of his China policy.

A fed-up Duterte said, "I never, never in my campaign as president promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea."

What Duterte did promise in the Cagayan de Oro presidential debates in February 2016 was that he would ride a jetski to the Spratlys or Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to plant the Philippine flag.

Sasakay ako ng jet ski, dala-dala ko 'yung flag ng Pilipino at pupunta ako doon sa airport nila tapos itanim ko. Then I would say, 'This is ours and do what you want with me. Bahala na kayo,'” said Duterte, as a candidate asked about his West Philippine Sea approach.

(I will ride a jet ski, bringing with me the Philippine flag then I will go to the airport there and I will plant it. Then I would say, "This is ours and do what you want with me. It's up to you.")

On Monday night, Duterte insisted that he never promised to "pressure" China during his campaign.

"I did not promise that I would pressure China. I never mentioned about China and the Philippines in my campaign because that was a very serious matter," said Duterte.

He spent a big chunk of his speech that night pelting insults at former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio.

As before, he blamed them for a situation that led to the Chinese presence in Panatag Shoal. Del Rosario, in response, has said the Chinese had violated an agreement to leave the shoal. Faced with China's defiance, the Aquino administration filed a case against China with the Permanent Arbitration Court in the Hague, which the Philippines won, invalidating China's claim to the West Philippine Sea.

The West Philippine Sea has figured in several of Duterte's most recent public addresses, ever since critics demanded stronger actions from the President after the swarming of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef.

The strongest statement Duterte has issued so far on the issue is that he would "not compromise" on the Philippines' sovereign rights there and would order Philippine ships to stay there. He acknowledged, however, the great "debt" the country owes to China for giving access to its COVID-19 vaccines. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.