Top Philippine president candidate says may cut US, Australia ties

 21 Apr 2016 - 12:54

Top Philippine president candidate says may cut US, Australia ties
This photo taken on April 19, 2016 shows Rodrigo Duterte, front-runner presidential candidate for the May 9 elections, swearing in front of a national flag and supporters (not pictured) during a campaign sortie in Iloilo City, central Philippines.  AFP / STR  

 

Manila: Trash-talking Philippine presidential favourite Rodrigo Duterte has warned he is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the United States and Australia after their envoys criticised his comments about the jailhouse rape of a missionary.

Duterte also told the ambassadors to "shut their mouths", as controversy raged over his comments last week in which he said he wanted to have been the first to rape the Australian woman who was brutalised and murdered in a 1989 prison riot.

"If I become president, go ahead and sever (diplomatic ties)," Duterte, 71, said on the campaign trail on Wednesday night, referring to the relationships with the United States and Australia, two of the Philippines' closest allies.

Duterte, who while campaigning has called the pope a "son of a bitch" and promised to kill tens of thousands of criminals, recounted at a recent rally the attack on the Christian missionary as part of his tough-on-crime pitch to voters.

"I was mad she (the missionary) was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first," she told the crowd.

Duterte was at the time mayor of Davao, a major city in the southern Philippines where he is accused of running vigilante death squads that have allegedly killed more than 1,000 people.

The front runner has at times on the campaign boasted about running the death squads, claiming they killed 1,700 people, but also denied any links to them.

Duterte has similarly offered varying responses to the rape comments, with his media team releasing a statement in which he apologised. But on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly told reporters he would not say sorry.

Australian ambassador Amanda Gorely criticised his remarks this week, saying on Twitter: "Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialised. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere".

US ambassador Philip Goldberg later agreed with her.

"Statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialise issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone," Goldberg said in an interview with CNN Philippines television.

- 'Shut your mouths' -

Duterte has repeatedly expressed anger at what he regards as their intervention in domestic politics.

"It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths," Duterte told reporters on Wednesday.

A US embassy spokesman told AFP Thursday there was no immediate response to Duterte's remarks about the ambassadors. An Australian embassy spokeswoman said there would be no comment.

Incumbent President Benigno Aquino on Thursday also criticised Duterte's remarks, while warning the policies of certain candidates could reverse the high rates of economic growth the country had seen during his six-year rule.

"What do we gain by this? America is a very big trading partner, Australia has been helping us... so what is the value (of such actions?) If there is no value, why will you do it?" he told reporters.

"I do have to thank them (certain candidates) for showing how different their styles are from ours," Aquino said.

"These (economic growth) results were a direct outcome of our governance. If governance (were reversed) surely it is not reasonable to expect that progress would continue," Aquino added.

Meanwhile in another warning to the country's traditional allies, Duterte's camp signalled it was prepared to start direct talks with China over a long-running territorial dispute.

Aquino has been improving defence ties with the United States and Australia to bolster the Philippines in its dispute with China over the South China Sea.

China claims most of the sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbours like the Philippines which has accused China of "bullying" other claimants.

However Duterte spokesman Peter Lavina told ABS-CBN television on Thursday that the presidential hopeful would be prepared to talk directly with China if elected.

Aquino has refused to hold direct talks with China over the dispute, preferring multilateral discussions and filing a legal challenge with a United Nations-backed tribunal.

AFP