MANILA, Philippines – Rodrigo Duterte appeared to be testing Grace Poe's mettle by asking her what she would do if she woke up one night to China's attack on the Philippine Coast Guard's boats.
He posed the question during the second part of the second presidential debate held in Cebu City on Sunday, March 20.
"What would happen if one night, gigisingin ka tapos sabihin ng commander, 'Ang dalawa nating coast guard cutter, pinasabog' (You are woken up and the commander tells you, 'Our two Coast Guard cutters have been bombed'). What would be the first 3 steps that you would do?" asked Duterte.
#PHVoteDuterte asks #PHVotePoe about Spratlys. https://t.co/Ix0E86uTqE #PHVote #PiliPinasDebates2016 https://t.co/aUeA6rGVYY — Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 20, 2016
Poe began by saying she would strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines by spending more money on defense equipment like surface-to-air missiles. She would also go into talks with other Southeast Asian countries also claiming the Spratlys to constructively engage with China and follow a code of conduct.
#PHVotePoe on China and lack of resources for defense. https://t.co/Ix0E86uTqE #PHVote #PiliPinasDebates2016 https://t.co/4Q33uYXeRd — Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 20, 2016
She would also ask other countries to affirm international agreements that give the Philippines jurisdiction over the Spratlys.
"Kung kinakailangan, bilang isang pangulo, ay katukin ko ang pinto ng bawa't bansa para tayuan nila ang kasunduan dito sa UNCLOS ay gagawin ko (If necessary, as president, I will knock on the doors of each country so they will affirm the UNCLOS)," said Poe.
UNCLOS stands for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an agreement the Philippines is using in an international arbitration to claim it has rights to the Spratlys.
Duterte not satisfied
But Duterte said Poe did not answer his question.
"Ma'am, I’m just talking about the worst-case scenario…What would be the first 3 steps that you would do?" said Duterte.
Poe then back-tracked and said her 3 steps are: she would get up right away, call the heads of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Transportation and Communications who command the Coast Guard, and ask for assistance from the United States as part of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
#PHVotePoe : We need to defend PH, but need to form alliances. https://t.co/Ix0E86uTqE #PHVote #PiliPinasDebates2016 https://t.co/JXN8ynLR6P — Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 20, 2016
"Mabilis na babangon ang presidente, at itatawag ang head ng AFP at ang head ng DOTC sapagka't nandiyan napapailalim ang Coast Guard...Meron tayong Visiting Forces Agreement. Meron tayong kasunduan sa ibang bansa kung paano tayo dedepensahan," she said.
(The president will get up quickly and call the heads of AFP and DOTC since the Coast Guard falls under them...We have a Visiting Forces Agreement . We have agreements with another country on how they can help defend us.)
Duterte's question was the only time during the debate that any candidate appeared to bring attention to Poe's lack of experience.
This issue had been hurled at Poe before. Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel "Mar" Roxas II in particular was vocal about this during the first presidential debate.
On the issue of the maritime dispute with China, Duterte had previously said he would pursue bilateral talks with China if no progress is made in the international arbitration case being pursued by the Philippine government.
None of the other candidates chose to ask Duterte a question during the second part of the Cebu debate. Binay, given the chance to grill Duterte, said he had no question in mind for the Davao City mayor. – 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.