Pemberton pardon, changing tone on China show Duterte gov't has 'no coherent foreign policy' – Carpio

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 16) — The Duterte administration has "no coherent foreign policy" four years into holding office, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said, citing flip-flopping statements on the United States and China.

The legal expert said this is manifested in changing tones on Manila's relationship with Beijing, as well as in recent maneuvers that led to President Rodrigo Duterte granting pardon to US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Pemberton, who spent less than six years in a special jail cell for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014, was suddenly granted absolute pardon days after an Olongapo court ordered his early release for good conduct. This cut short his supposed 10-year sentence, with the Laude family claiming that Duterte broke his promise to never let the American walk free under his watch.

Carpio said Duterte likely relied on "knee-jerk reactions" in deciding such cases. He added this was also the case for his plan to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, only to put this decision on hold months later.

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"There is total absence of coherence in policy," the former Supreme Court magistrate said during a forum hosted by the Stratbase ADR Institute.

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said there could have been a quid pro quo or special agreement that led to Pemberton's pardon and eventual deportation to the US. However, it still proved how people "can never guess" what stance the government will take on issues affecting diplomatic ties, she added.

Stratbase ADR trustee Dr. Renato De Castro, a professor of International Studies, also said that recent events showed there's really "no clear-cut design" of foreign policy under Duterte, saying that a real independent foreign policy is something the next administration must work on.

The President is deemed the chief architect of foreign policy. Just months since assuming office, Duterte flew to visit Beijing and announced his "pivot to China." For Senator Ralph Recto, this automatically meant it wasn't an independent policy.

Malacañang has also said it wants the Philippines to be a "friend to all and enemy to none" globally, adding it will not let the conflicting claims in the South China Sea get in the way of possible bilateral deals between Manila and Beijing.

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Duterte has repeatedly said that he will set aside the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling which dismissed China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying its nine-dash line map cannot be the basis of its assertions. The President has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war with China, although Carpio and other observers say there are ways to enforce the landmark ruling within the bounds of international law.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs continues to file diplomatic protests for incursions or incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

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