MANILA, Philippines – Despite his own Foreign Secretary telling lawmakers he was briefed about the harassment of Philippine Navy personnel by a Chinese chopper in Ayungin Shoal, President Rodrigo Duterte now denies any knowledge of the incident.
"I don't know about that incident. I was busy talking to Korean officials. What kind of harassment?" he said on Wednedsay, June 6 in a press briefing held upon his arrival from Seoul.
After a reporter described the incident, Duterte stammered as he replied, "I, I, I, I have to have a more, not even a – this is the first time I've heard of it. It would be dangerous for me to answer questions without really having the slightest idea of what it is all about."
He also repeatedly complained about the problematic sound system and said he was having a hard time answering questions as he was jet-lagged. The time difference between Seoul and Manila is one hour.
Duterte's denial contradicts Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano's remarks during a congressional hearing last Wednesday, May 30, in which he said the President gave strong instructions specifically about the Ayungin Shoal incident.
"We filed a protest regarding that. We had a meeting. The President had strong instructions," said Cayetano after he was asked about the harassment incident.
It is also highly unlikely that Duterte, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the chief architect of the country's foreign policy, was not informed about the alleged harassment in Ayungin Shoal, said to have taken place on May 11.
Rappler reported that Duterte expressed concern for the Philippine Navy soldiers who were in the boat trailed closely by a Chinese chopper.
He had conveyed this during a May 28 confidential meeting where Cayetano and Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta Romana were present.
During the meeting, Duterte was briefed about the Ayungin Shoal incident, updates on Pag-asa Island and other Philippine-held features in the West Philippine Sea, according to a Rappler source. – 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.