When he was just campaigning for the presidency, then-candidate Rodrigo Duterte said he would ride a jet ski in the West Philippine Sea to assert our sovereignty amid incursions by China.
In March this year, however, the President said his statement to the effect was “just talk...I’m surprised you believed it.”
But this week jet skis were in fact seen on board BRP Davao del Sur, which President Duterte boarded to commemorate the first year of the renaming of the Philippine Rise, which used to be known as Benham Rise.
For a while there was talk that the 73-year-old Duterte would in fact board one of the jet skis. And then it was said his son, Sebastian, would do it on his father’s behalf. Eventually—and fortunately so—the cinematic stunt was scrapped, because it would have been an embarrassment for all the wrong premises.
Still the President uttered confounding statements as he sent a 50-member survey team to the Philippine Rise. The underwater plateau, declared by the United Nations as part of the country’s extended continental shelf. The Philippines was granted sovereign rights over the area.
Philippine Rise, however, is nowhere near the West Philippine Sea. It is in fact on the other side of the Luzon island.
This did not prevent the President from launching into tough talk as he said China was “slowly eating up” the country’s territorial waters by reclaiming reefs and turning them into military garrison.
He said foreign countries would face Philippine soldiers if they entered Philippine waters without permission.
But China did enter this area once, conducting its own research with nary a whimper of protest from Philippine officials. It was only after China had finished its research that Mr. Duterte ordered a stop to all explorations.
China also secured approval for names it had given five features in the underwater region.
The enigmatic President did not appear to have any qualms talking about China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea despite facing the opposite way. The passive-aggressive stance is also baffling given the way he has bent over backwards in accommodating Chinese friendship and keeping mum about our giant neighbor’s antics.
We would be ready to accept all these as his personal quirks if only we stuck to a consistent stance about incursions from foreign countries, whatever those countries may be, and whether or not they are offering us aid, loans, or investments.
But if our officials continue to vacillate between being protective or permissive, then in the long run they might really be on the wrong side—not of the map, but of history.