MANILA – The Palace on Friday said the public should not interpret President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement of the Philippines' "separation" from the United States.
Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag said the public should wait for guidelines regarding what Duterte said.
“We should not make any interpretations yet and it can wait. So let’s not make any haka-haka muna (any speculations) about it because once the paper is in, I don’t think it would be needed for us to -- there is a need for us to make haka-haka (speculations) on that,” Banaag said in a news conference.
"There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president as we have to wait for guidelines that would be coming from him, from the Department of Foreign Affairs as soon as they come back," she said.
In his strongest words so far against the U.S., Duterte said he is "separating" from the Philippines’ long-term ally and align instead with China and Russia.
Duterte made his comments in Beijing, where he was visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally Washington deteriorate.
He told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People that America had "lost now".
"I've realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world - China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way.
"With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also."
Duterte's efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous administration in Manila, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the former mayor took office on June 30.
High-level Philippine government officials were cautious about Duterte’s statements, with his trade and budget secretaries saying the president’s latest pronouncements do not mean that Manila is cutting trade ties with other countries.
Washington has been careful in its response to Duterte’s strong words, only reiterating the strength of the seven-decade-old alliance between the two Pacific nations.
In the wake of Duterte’s announcement of his split with the US, the White House said the Philippine government has not officially asked to end any security or economic ties between the two countries.
"We have not received any official requests from Filipino officials to alter any of our many issues where we bilaterally cooperate," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters during a briefing.
U.S. seeks explanation
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby, meanwhile, said the U.S. will seek an explanation from the Philippines, calling the remarks baffling and at odds with the two countries' close relationship.
"We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from the U.S.," Kirby said. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications."
Banaag said the appropriate government agency will be able to give clarifications in case Duterte’s foreign policy will be put on paper.
“What we can only say is that once there is this announcement, whichever agency has the jurisdiction to craft the policy of that matter, they would be-- they should address that,” he said.
Banaag said there might be a need to put Duterte’s policies in paper so that concerned states will be able to respond formally.
“It should be something that should be in paper so that makasagot din sila in paper. Kailangan po na—kailangan po nila ‘yun para klaro ‘yung metes and bounds kung ano ba talaga ang coverage ng isang pronouncement ng Presidente,” she said.
(It should be something that should be in paper so that they will be able to respond in paper as well. They need to know the metes and bounds, as well the real coverage, of Duterte’s pronouncements.)
The U.S. Embassy press attache in Manila, Molly Koscina, said Duterte's statements were creating uncertainty. "We've seen a lot of this sort of troubling rhetoric recently," she told Reuters in an email.
"We have yet to hear from the Philippine government what Duterte's remarks on 'separation' might mean, but it is creating unnecessary uncertainty."
She also said the United States would honour alliance commitments and treaty obligations with the Philippines.
"And, of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same."
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Washington intended to keep to its alliance commitments to the Philippines.
"Obviously any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts," he told reporters on a flight to Turkey.
China shuns 'Cold War thinking'
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked in Beijing about Duterte's comments, said countries should not resort to win-lose mentalities.
"We should not have Cold War thinking, it's either you or me, you win I lose, that kind of zero-sum game," she told a regular press briefing.
"We have always developed relations with other countries in the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, mutually win-win, not aimed at, not excluding and not affecting other countries developing normal relations with each other."
Wrangling over territory in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, has consumed China-Philippines relations in recent years.
China claims most of the waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and in 2012 it seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal and denied Philippine fishermen access to its fishing grounds.
In a statement issued by China's Xinhua news agency, China and the Philippines said it was important to address differences in the South China Sea "without resorting to the threat or use of force". – with reports from Reuters