MANILA - Former foreign affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario on Tuesday urged Filipinos to vote in next year's elections for a candidate who is good for the country, and not China.
The Philippines' former top diplomat had accused President Rodrigo Duterte of winning the 2016 elections with the help of Beijing, with which the administration forged friendlier relations in favor of economic benefits despite its disregard for Manila's rights in the West Philippine Sea.
China continues to shun a 2016 United Nations-backed court ruling invalidating its expansive claims in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea. Duterte had called the landmark award a piece of "paper" that belongs to the trash bin.
On Monday, Duterte denied that China helped him win the presidency in 2016, saying, "Sixteen million, makuha mo ng tulong mula sa ibang bayan? Sixteen million, mabili mo?" referring to the number of votes he got.
(Can one country help you get 16 million votes? Can you buy that many votes?)
He also threatened to press charges against Del Rosario for allegedly ceding control of the Scarborough Shoal to China during his term.
According to Duterte, Del Rosario is guilty of treason, and even questioned the latter's nationality.
Responding to Duterte's remarks, Del Rosario issued the following statement: "For this coming election, our humble view is our people should vote for the candidate who is good for our country — and not one who is good for China."
Del Rosario is part of the opposition coalition 1Sambayan seeking a single slate of national candidates in the 2022 elections to counter the Duterte administration's bets.
Del Rosario, who was the foreign affairs chief when the Philippines initiated arbitration proceedings against China in 2013, earlier said he believes Duterte's actions "fit into a disturbing pattern of loyalty to a foreign power."
He cited Duterte's remarks in 2018 that Chinese President Xi Jinping has sworn to protect him from being removed from office.
Once-frosty ties between the two countries had warmed under Duterte, who set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment that critics say have largely not materialized.
Facing growing domestic pressure to take a harder line, Duterte in late April said the Philippine maritime patrols would continue, insisting its sovereignty over the waters was not negotiable.
The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China for their continued incursions in the country's waters.
Duterte recently said he would seek the vice presidency during next year's elections if it means having legal immunity amid threats of lawsuits by his critics once he steps down from power.
Experts said the country's top two official is not immune from suit.
- with a report from Agence France-Presse