Rodrigo Duterte, currently the frontrunner in this year’s Philippine presidential elections, has vowed to “sever” ties with the United States over their criticism of a joke he made about an Australian rape victim. The threat comes at a time of high tensions in the South China Sea, where the U.S. is aiding the Philippines in keeping China from usurping much of its territory.
Duterte, a member of the center-left PDP-Laban Party, has come under fire for repeatedly referring to the beauty of a woman gang-raped in Davao City, where he is mayor, and joking that he “should have been first” to have sex with her before the rapists. His party issued an apology on his behalf, which he publicly rejected, stating he will “never really apologize” for his remarks.
The Philippine Star has published an explosive report compiling his response to a variety of critics, including American and Australian diplomats. In response to Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely’s remark that “rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized,” and American Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s statement that “any statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder, are not ones that we condone,” Duterte has vowed to sever ties with both nations.
“If I become president, go ahead and sever it,” Duterte said, adding that he would give both countries “a sh*t” if they continue to condemn him. “Do not interfere, it’s election time, you better shut your mouth,” he warned.
Severing ties with the United States and Australia would almost certainly cost the Philippines sovereignty over much of its territory. The Philippines claims a significant portion of the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which the Chinese government has unilaterally proclaimed its own. China has developed military infrastructure in both regions and lodged weaponry there, mostly recently landing a military plane on Fiery Cross Reef, a Philippine Spratly territory.
The territory the Chinese government claims for itself violates the sovereignty of Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. It borders Indonesian territory, which has led officials there to express support for China’s containment. The Philippines has filed a suit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague and is waiting for a verdict, which China has vowed to ignore regardless of outcome.
Current President Benigno Aquino, aware that China’s military might dwarfs Manila’s, has signed agreements with the United States that allow for joint patrols in the region to keep Chinese invaders out, and grants America further use of five military bases, one very near the Spratlys.
Asked about the potential for disaster in the South China Sea should he sever ties, Duterte said, “That’s their problem not mine. I never interfered in their elections,” referring to the United States. The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Star notes that Duterte has responded to other critics similarly. To a group of female activists calling for him to issue an apology, he said simply, “go to hell.” To his daughter — who said that, as a rape victim, she was “not offended” — he said she was a “drama queen” who “can’t be raped — she carries a gun.”
Duterte is leading by 18 points in the latest national poll. Elections are scheduled to be held on May 9.