The Philippines will stay a responsible member of the international community but will continue to fight for “what is rightfully ours,” President Duterte declared Monday.
Delivering his sixth State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress, the President discussed his independent foreign policy and assured the nation that the country would no longer act “in the shadows of great powers.”
“To our friends in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and around the world: Thank you for supporting my government, my country and people when it truly mattered. I assure you that the Philippines will remain a responsible member of the international community and we will work with you to achieve our shared objectives,” he said.
“But no mistake: Gone are the days when the Philippines decides and acts in the shadows of great powers. We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people,” he added.
The President then enumerated instances asserting the country’s interests, from the asking Canada to retrieve its garbage to seeking the abolition of the kafala system for the protection of migrant workers.
He said the country sent back to Canada the container vans filled with garbage “because our country is not a dumpsite.”
Duterte said his government also sought the return of the church bells looted by American troops more than a century ago. He said the church bells were returned in December 2018 in exchange of his commitment to visit the United States then. But the President now admitted that he acted “in bad faith” since he has no intention of visiting the United States.
The President also addressed the issue of the country’s territorial spat with China during his SONA. Duterte said he asserted the arbitration ruling on the South China “clearly and in no uncertain terms” before the United Nations General Assembly as well as the ASEAN summit.
“The Arbitral Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” he said.
Duterte admitted that much needs to be done in terms of scaling up maritime domain awareness and defense capabilities with its foreign partners. “Yet, we will not close our doors on diplomacy and détente. Because that is how disputes are settled and never by force,” he said.