Philippine president in hot water for separation comments

Philippine president in hot water for separation comments

All is not well in the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte freaked the international community completely out by announcing his “separation” from Washington. The alarm was so loud and widespread, both in and out of the Philippines, Duterte was forced to come back and clarify what he “really” meant.

President Duterte said he never meant to imply he was severing ties with the U.S., only that he wanted to encourage a more independent foreign policy while strengthening relations with China. While Duterte might see that as a necessary step in his country’s evolution, that’s not a statement that would un-ruffle too many ruffled feathers, especially since he made the statements during a trip to China.

Despite the explanation of the gaffe, the headlines were already written and published, causing Duterte to shift almost immediately to damage control. Duterte was forced to once again explain when he returned from his trip to Beijing. He told the media:

“It is not severance of ties. When you say severance of ties, you cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that… It’s in the best interest of my countrymen to maintain that relationship.”

Then again, maybe he wasn’t really clarifying at all. Saying “I can’t do that” is definitely not saying “I don’t want to do that” … a distinction many have already pointed out.

Worse, at least from the perspective of relations with the United States, Duterte seemed a lot more chummy with both China and Russia than his “clarification” let on. After all, he told the Chinese that the U.S. had “lost” … adding that he was “separating” from the United States.

As further clarification, Duterte explained that his country’s foreign moves would not always connect directly with the United States, a position that is likely to rankle Washington no matter how he phrases it. Duterte said his country would no longer just follow the lead of the U.S. in its foreign policy, opting instead to go its own way for its own interests.

The White House firmly invited Duterte to offer even more “clarity” with regard to his comments, saying the comments invited a change in tone concerning US-Philippine foreign relations. Based on the decades-long relationship between the two nations, how this will play out from a PR perspective for the president is difficult to predict.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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