Duterte denies receiving help from China to win 2016 elections

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte shot down rumors that China, with whom he has pursued warmer ties, had helped him secure the nation’s top government post.

In his final State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte addressed allegations that he received financial backing from the Asian giant during his 2016 election bid.

“I will never, never do that," he said.

"Hindi na bale ako 'di ma-presidente, ‘di ko talaga gagawin 'yan...'Di ako tinulungan ng China [It doesn't matter if I don't become president, I will never do that. China didn't help me]," he continued, adding he has never accepted any form of political bribery.

Fuelling this speculation is Duterte’s apparent soft stance on Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

Tensions over the disputed territory heightened anew earlier this year after another massing of suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels in Philippine waters. This triggered a renewed demand from critics for the President to take a tougher line with Beijing on the sea row.

In the earlier part of his address, Duterte said, "We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people."

Later, he noted he already affirmed Manila’s arbitral victory at the United Nations General Assembly in September last year. Pushing it beyond that, he believes, would mean asking for a war with China.

READ: Remembering the 2016 Hague ruling: What has happened since then?

“Ano pa ang gusto niyo [What else do you want]?" he asked. "Do you want war against China? Well, I’ll tell you...It will be a massacre if I go and fight a war now."

“We are not yet a competent and able enemy of the other side. So, what I did was I was just being nice to them," he added, later saying he would not risk his and Filipino soldiers' lives over the matter.

RELATED: Duterte: No way we can get back West PH Sea without any bloodshed

This narrative of war, which Duterte has repeated multiple times, had been debunked by maritime experts who stressed that the country need not take arms to assert its rights over the resource-rich waterway.

Later in his speech, Duterte also said he is indebted to Beijing for its COVID-19 vaccine donations to the Philippines. He said it was China which he first called for help regarding the pandemic response.

“For us Visayans, 'yung utang na loob, mabigat talaga ‘yan [we take our debt of gratitude seriously],” he said. “’Pag may utang na loob ako sa’yo [If I’m indebted to you], you can be sure that I will be your friend, a true friend, and die for you.”