by Genalyn D. Kabiling
The Philippines is committed to build on constructive alliances with international partners and pursue new friendship with others, President Duterte declared yesterday at the traditional New Year reception in Malacañang.
The President said he recognized that the frontiers of international cooperation are “limitless” if countries help each other and respect each other’s independence.
“We value partners as we seek to strengthen existing friendships even as we pursue new ones,” the President said before diplomats, Cabinet members, lawmakers, and other senior government officials at the Vin d’Honneur affair.
“We believe that friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals. In truth, we all share the same aspiration of greater peace, progress, and prosperity,” he said.
The President said the Philippines would “continue to build on our friendship founded on a common objective, shared values, and time honored principles of international law.”
Duterte’s remarks came as the administration moved to lessen the country’s dependence on its long-time ally the United States in protest of Washington’s criticism of his bloody war on illegal drugs. Although he has not severed ties with the US, Duterte has forged closer economic alliances with China, Russia, and other Asian neighbors.
The President did not mention the US, Russia, and China in his speech but pressed the need for respect for a nation’s sovereign independence.
“In a world that recognizes our interconnectedness and respect each others’ sovereign independence, the horizons and frontiers of cooperation are virtually limitless. Friendship, after all, knows no bound,” he said.
It was the first New Year reception hosted by the President for the diplomatic community led by Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Pinto since he assumed office in June, 2016.
After giving a message and a toast during the traditional Vin d’Honneur reception, Duterte gave an off-the-cuff remarks, calling on the international community to “act together” and “preserve mankind” from the threat of terrorism.
“I just finished reading the other night ISIS, it’s a book and it says there a lot of things of the state of our…so I hope we can get together, act together, and just to preserve mankind,” Duterte said.
In the same event, President Duterte renewed his “sacred vow” to free Filipinos from the slavery of drugs, corruption and criminality.
The President said he was willing to do what he must to combat these “three evils” and pursue reforms to make the Philippines a “stronger Republic.”
“When I assumed the presidency six months ago, I certainly pledged to lead my country and my people. I vowed to address three basic evils that subjected my people, especially the poorest and the disenfranchised to the most unbearable burdens of slavery, or millions of them to drugs, corruption, criminality, and a revolution in the south,” the President said in his remarks.
“I say to you all now that the sacred vow remains unchanged. I stay true to the mandate reposed on me,” he added.
Duterte said the administration will stay firm in holding accountable corrupt public servants for their deeds.
He also promised to “make criminals responsible for their actions” as well as “work very, very hard to finally break the apparatus of the illegal drugs trade.”
“In so doing, we affirm and renew our commitment to bring about the change that my country and people deserve. Certainly, realizing the change we need comes with the challenges but we are willing and able to do what we must, consistent with our constitutional mandate,” he said.
The government has also started to carry out genuine reforms to encourage more trade and investments, to intensify commercial activities, to ramp up investment and much-needed infrastructure, to increase revenues to make communities more resilient, and to improve basic social services, according to the President.
The pursuit of peace with Muslim rebels and communist group is also part of the President’s priority this year.
“We are talking to all stakeholders to bring about just and lasting peace in Mindanao and to finally bring to an end one of the longest-running revolutions in the world,” he said.
“These changes are vital to make the Philippines a stronger republic. It is on the basis of this political, social, and economic and the Philippines will be able to take on an even more active and more influential role in the community of nations,” he added.
In the same speech, the President said the Philippines is also doing its part in addressing common challenges the international community face such as terrorism, natural and human-induced calamities, transnational crimes, hunger and poverty and international disputes.
“Indeed, as we thrive to be stronger at our core, we hope to do more not just for our own people but for our region and for the world,” he said.
Duterte also grabbed the opportunity to seek international support for the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this year.
“This New Year, the Philippines takes on the ASEAN Chairmanship with renewed fervor, a sense of purpose. It is valor opportunity to exercise leadership to advance the regional development agenda of forging a rules-based community that puts citizens’ welfare at the heart of every initiative. The Philippines counts on your full support,” he said.
In his New Year’s toast, the President said he wishes for “deeper and more meaningful engagements” with the country’s partners and friends.
“To all our friends and partners in the community of nations, may our relationships continue to prosper for the greater benefit of our peoples,” he said.
To fellow government workers, Duterte said he hopes they will be blessed with strength and steadfastness and with passion, honesty and integrity in serving the nation.
To his countrymen, he expressed hope they would continue to carry the country towards a more aspired vision of a secured and developed nation.
“Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay kayong lahat! At mabuhay ang the league of nations and friends! Salamat po,” he said.
“To your success, Excellencies. Kanpai! Bottoms up!” he said before drinking his glass of apple cider while his guests sipped their champagne.
Among those who attended the Palace event were Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senator Cynthia Villar, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and other Cabinet members, and other senior government officials. Vice President Leni Robredo and Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno were not seen in the Palace affair.
Robredo’s spokesperson Georgina Hernandez said the Office of the Vice President received an invitation to the Vin d’Honneur through an email last December 28. But on January 4, “Malacañang called the office to retract the invitation, citing ‘guest list was limited,’” Hernandez said in a statement sent to media.
Apart from the traditional New Year’s reception, the President hosts a similar gathering for the diplomatic community every June 12to celebrate the anniversary of the Philippine Independence. (With a report from Raymund F. Antonio)