DAVAO CITY — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addressed about 200 Filipino-American visitors in this city on Friday, July 14, urging them to be “ambassadors” bearing the message of change under his administration.
Despite various travel advisories and the recent pronouncement of martial law in Mindanao, Fil-Ams from across the United States came to the Philippines this week for the 11th Ambassadors’ Tour, which highlighted attractions in Manila and Davao.
“May you become Filipino ambassadors who shall carry a fresh perspective of the new and improved Philippines when you go back to the United States,” Duterte said during the dinner reception held at the SMX Convention Center.
The six-day Ambassadors’ Tour — which was organized by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of Tourism (DOT), the Tourism Promotions Board, and Rajah Tours — brought Fil-Ams from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Hawaii, and Guam to the country.
Boasting the strides Davao City has made to shed its former murder capital label, Duterte told the visitors who experienced the city first-hand that he has intended to bring similar policies on a nationwide scale.
It was a “no brainer” to have the president’s hometown as the host venue for this year’s Ambassadors’ Tour, Philippine Consul General in New York Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega said earlier this week, because “it is one of the premier cities in Asia” and to show the tourists “what a safe, clean, comfortable, and most of all, welcoming province Davao is.”
The DOT is confident that it can continue to draw in foreigners and break the 5.9 million visitor total from last year.
In the first quarter of 2017, a record number of 1.7 million visitors came to the country, DOT Undersecretary Kat de Castro said on Friday. As of May, the arrivals have reached 2.8 million.
“We at the Department of Tourism believe that this a clear indication that the Philippines remains to be a safe haven for residents and visitors alike,” she said.
After his prepared speech, Duterte proceeded to address the audience for roughly an hour, overviewing his first year in office, including the war on drugs, the Marawi City crisis, and corruption in government.
Referencing international news reports about the deaths associated with the Philippines’ crackdown on drugs, the president said he does “not enjoy the extrajudicial killing term.”
“I do not relish killing people,” he declared, explaining that his threats to kill criminals have been misconstrued as actual actions.
Duterte, who gained popularity during the election last year for his hardline rhetoric against crime, added, “Find me a law — wherever you come from — point out to me a law in your country and in my country, which says you cannot threaten a criminal from destroying your country.”
Since taking office last June, some 9,400 homicide cases associated with the anti-illegal drug campaign have been recorded under the Duterte administration up until March, causing alarm from human rights groups around the world. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has argued that less than 2,000 have been killed in legitimate police operations
He vowed that by the time his administration ends in five years, drugs and corruption will be at all-time lows.
Echoing past speeches, the United States and former President Barack Obama were mentioned anew for the latter administration’s criticism of the way Duterte has been handling the illegal drug epidemic in the Philippines.
“My duty is to preserve and defend the Filipino nation,” Duterte said. “Nobody should teach me how to do it.”
He acknowledged that the U.S. has been helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its fight against the Islamic State(IS)-inspired Maute group in Marawi City since the turmoil broke out in late May.
“Let us give credit where credit is due,” the president said.
Despite a move toward a more independent foreign policy and pursuing warmer ties with China and Russia, Duterte affirmed on Friday that he cannot enter into military alliances with other countries as it would violate the Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S.
He said that he and China have discussed receiving P370 million worth of military equipment, as well as possible aid from Russia in the future. However, there would be no “attachment” to those exchanges.
“Walang attachment diyan. Walang head of state, si Putin o si President Xi Jinping magsabi, ‘O, bigyan kita (There would be no attachment. Putin or Xi did not say ‘I will offer you this but you should be loyal’), said Duterte.
With his unfiltered language in Friday’s speech, Duterte told the audience that “at least nakilala ninyo ako (you got to know me).”
The president recently marked one year in office and is slated to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.