Diplomacy under Duterte: Why feed rich ambassadors?

MANILA, Philippines – Known for cussing and rarely seen in formal wear, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, January 20, gave Filipinos a peek into his style of diplomacy if elected president.

Duterte said that, if he wins, he would not feed foreign ambassadors in a traditional ceremony to welcome the Philippines’ new head of state.

Duterte said in "The Leader I Want" forum organized by Rappler: “Bakit ako magpapakain diyan? Puro busog na ang mga ambassador diyan. Ang yayaman niyan.” (Why will I serve food there? All the ambassadors there are well-fed. They’re all rich.)

Punta kayo, kumain muna, tapos mag-usap tayo. And that’s it. Hindi ako madrama na tao,” Duterte said, as the audience in De La Salle University's Yuchengco Auditorium applauded. (WATCH: #TheLeaderIWant Forum)

(Come here, eat first, and then let’s talk. And that’s it. I’m not a person who likes too much drama.)

Duterte mentioned other plans if he “makes it to Pasig” – referring to the Pasig River, one of the world’s dirtiest rivers along which the Philippine presidential palace, Malacañang, is located.

“If, by the grace of God, I make it to Pasig…you won’t see me taking my oath of office in Luneta. I will take my oath of office in the Office of the President,” he said.

Newly-elected Philippine presidents usually take their oaths of office at the Quirino Grandstand. This is near Luneta, more formally known as Rizal Park, which hosts a monument in honor of the national hero, Jose Rizal.

Duterte added: “I will invite no one except maybe my family that stood by me all the time, the generals, and the diplomatic corps. But your invitation will only say, 'Drinks will be served,' and that will be colas. Soda. Tubig, kung may ulcer kayo. (Water, if you have ulcer.)”

Part of a president's job

Duterte made these statements after he made a diplomatic no-no, late last year, by cursing Pope Francis over the heavy traffic caused by his trip to the Philippines.

For this, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines slammed him in a rare, strongly worded statement titled, “Mayor Duterte?” This prompted Duterte to meet with a local bishop and, according to Rappler's sources, plan a trip to Rome to say sorry to the Pope.

On Wednesday, Duterte clarified that his cursing the Pope was “a stray bullet.”

“What I was complaining about was what was being done to the Filipino people,” he said.

In apparent reference to the Philippines’ hosting of the Pope, Duterte added, “When you live in a nipa hut, do not throw a banquet to invite everybody in the barangay (village).”

Duterte has served as Davao City mayor for more than two decades. His role as mayor doesn't require him to work closely with diplomats, as much as presidents do.

He is now running for a position that would require him to become the “principal architect of Philippine foreign policy.” 

A President’s job entails dealing with ambassadors – as well as engaging in diplomatic niceties – to attract foreign aid and enlist other countries’ support in issues such as the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute between Manila and Beijing.

Before attending Rappler's forum, Duterte on Saturday, January 16, gave a foretaste of his policy toward China.

He said he wants to pursue one-on-one talks with China to assert the Philippines’ rights. 

This is in contrast to what the Aquino administration did, dropping bilateral talks with China to pursue a historic case against the rising superpower before a tribunal in The Hague.

Explaining his stance, Duterte said he would tell China to stop its island-building activities in the West Philippine Sea. 

The mayor known as “The Punisher,” however, said he wants to “be courteous” to China about this.  

“We will just talk,” he said. “We cannot go into war. We cannot afford it.” – Rappler.com