Duterte says he may cut US, Australia ties


MANILA, Philippines – (2nd UPDATE) Trash-talking Philippine presidential favorite Rodrigo Duterte has warned he is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the United States and Australia after their ambassadors criticized his joke about the jailhouse rape of a missionary.

Duterte also told the ambassadors to "shut their mouths," as controversy continued to rage over his comments in which he said he wanted to have been the first to rape the Australian woman who was brutalized and murdered in a 1989 prison riot.

"If I become president, go ahead and sever it (diplomatic ties)," Duterte, 71, said on the campaign trial on Wednesday night, April 20, referring to the relationships with the United States and Australia, two of the Philippines' closest allies.

Duterte, who while campaigning has called Pope Francis a "son of a bitch" for causing traffic jams in Manila when he visited in January 2015, and promised to kill thousands of criminals, recounted at a recent rally the riot events as part of his tough-on-crime pitch to voters.

"They raped all of the women... there was this Australian lay minister... when they took them out... I saw her face and I thought, 'Son of a bitch. What a pity... they raped her, they all lined up," he told the crowd.

"I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first."

Duterte was at the time mayor of Davao, a major city in the southern Philippines where he is accused of running vigilante death squads that have allegedly killed more than 1,000 people.

The poll front-runner has at times on the campaign boasted about running the death squads, claiming they killed 1,700 people, but also denied any links to them.

Duterte has similarly offered varying responses to the rape comments, with his media team releasing a statement in which he apologized. But on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly told reporters he would not apologize. (READ: The story behind Rodrigo Duterte's 'apology')

Australian ambassador Amanda Gorely criticized his remarks saying in a statement on Twitter: "Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialised. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere."

US ambassador Philip Goldberg later agreed with her, saying in a television interview that "statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialise issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone."

In reaction, Duterte said, "It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths."

Days before, the mayor had already told off the Australian government following Gorely's statement. (READ: Duterte to Australia: 'Stay out')

A US embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse Thursday there was no immediate response to Duterte's remarks about the ambassadors. An Australian embassy spokeswoman said there would be no comment.

Aquino: What's the value of cutting ties?

President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday criticized Duterte's remarks, while warning the policies of certain candidates could reverse the high rates of economic growth the country had seen during his 6-year rule.

He said the US and Australia had given the Philippines many benefits.

"What do we gain by this? America is a very big trading partner, Australia has been helping us...so what is the value [of such actions]? If there is no value, why will you do it?" he told reporters.

"I do have to thank them (certain candidates) for showing how different their styles are from ours," said Aquino, who is backing the candidacy of his former interior secretary, Manuel "Mar" Roxas II.

"These (economic growth) results were a direct outcome of our governance. If governance (were reversed) surely it is not reasonable to expect that progress would continue," Aquino added.

The President also said voters should learn from such remarks, adding: "I believe the public knows how to make the right decision. Let us make sure that decision comes out in their ballots."

Duterte's rivals also slammed over his latest rant, saying it reflected the importance he gave to his "ego" over the national interest.

"It is scary to think that he will sever relationships that go back decades because of a single issue. The presidency is not just about one issue. In our dealings with other countries, we have to consider the dignity of our country, fight for our interests, and take care of the welfare of our OFWs," said Akbayan party list Representative Ibarra Gutierrez, spokesman of the administration's Daang Matuwid coalition.

"The ego of the president is not a factor to be considered....This is what Mayor Duterte does not understand. For the mayor, he is more important than the Philippines. His ego is more important than jobs for OFWs, the dignity of our country, and the integrity of our territory," Gutierrez added.

Bilateral talks with China?

Meanwhile, in another warning to the country's traditional allies, Duterte's camp signaled it was prepared to start direct talks with China over a long-running territorial dispute.

Aquino has been improving defense ties with the US and Australia to bolster the Philippines in its dispute with China over the South China Sea. (READ: US, Philippines launch joint patrol of South China Sea)

China claims most of the sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbors like the Philippines which has accused China of "bullying" other claimants. (READ: Philippines: China to build 'Berlin Wall of the Sea')

However, Duterte spokesman Peter Lavina said in an interview with ABS-CBN  on Thursday that he would be prepared to talk directly with China.

Aquino has refused to hold direct talks with China over the dispute, preferring multilateral discussions and filing a legal challenge with a United Nations-backed tribunal. – Rappler.com