THE FILIPINO fishermen who asked presidential candidates during a 2016 forum about their stance on the South China Sea dispute has expressed dismay over President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s statement that his promise to ride a jetski to the contested waters was just a publicity stunt.
“Masama po ang loob naming lahat dahil siyempre ‘yun ang sinabi niya. Inasahan namin ‘yun na gagawin niya. Ba’t sinabi niyang joke-joke lang (We feel resentful because, of course that is what he said and we expected that he will do just that. Why is he saying that it was just a joke?)?” Carlo Montehermozo, a fisherman in Pangasinan, told ABS-CBN News Teleradyo.
Mr. Montehermozo, who asked presidential candidates about their plans on defending Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese vessels, added: “Joke-joke lang din naging presidente natin (It has also been nothing but a joke who became our president).”
Mr. Duterte earlier this week said his campaign promise that he would ride a jetski to the South China Sea to plant the Philippine flag there and assert the country’s territorial rights over the resource-rich waterway was only a “joke.” He said those who believed him were “stupid.”
“All in the name of his political ambition. Face to face, he deceived a fisherman who was crying for help to the next leader of the country,” fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said in a press release on Wednesday.
The group said the President’s statement “is a matter of fishing rights for Filipino fishers who are forced to abandon their traditional fishing grounds due to continued Chinese presence.”
The group said Mr. Duterte’s China policy would definitely affect his anointed candidates for the upcoming polls.
“The Filipino fishers have already lost trust in him, thus he should bid goodbye to any illusions of his anointed minions winning next year’s elections.”
The President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador S. Panelo, said the President just wanted to dramatize that “he will not allow China to assault the sovereignty of this country” when he made the promise.
“He said that to dramatize the fact that he will not allow China to assault the sovereignty of this country. I think that was clear enough. For me, that was very clear during the campaign,” Mr. Panelo told ABS-CBN News on Wednesday.
Mr. Panelo, who has been criticized by civic groups for defending the President’s controversial public remarks, said Filipinos need to use “common sense” to determine whether the country’s top leader is “joking or not.”
Retired Justice Antonio T. Carpio earlier said the President committed estafa by not being true to his campaign promise that he would assert the country’s sovereign rights over the disputed waterway.
Rebuking Mr. Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, who have spoken against his foreign policy on China, Mr. Duterte had said he never promised to retake the country’s territories in the South China Sea.
Mr. Duterte had called the arbitral ruling that rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea a piece of paper that could be disposed of. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza