Duterte clarifies statement on U.S.: It's a separation of foreign policy, not severance of ties

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte clarified he is not cutting ties with the United States, but pursuing a "separation of foreign policy" from the country's decades-old ally.

Duterte  addressed the issue that had been on people's minds upon his arrival  from state visits to China and Brunei late Friday evening.

Duterte had spoken at the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing and announced a "separation" from the United States.

Watch: Duterte announces 'separation' from U.S.

"You know, you have to take my words in the context of what I've been saying all along. It is not a severance of ties," the President said. "In the severance of ties you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that. It is in the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship (with the U.S.)."

He stressed that what he meant was a "separation of a foreign policy."

 

He added, "In the past, and until I became president, we always follow what the United States would give the cue. Pasunod-sunod tayo. E hindi ako sumunod. [We would follow their directions. I refuse to do that.]"

The President made the clarification amid worries his statement in Beijing would affect local jobs in American-based companies and Filipinos who are living in the U.S.

Duterte's explanation mirrored an earlier statement issued by Malacañang where Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said, "It is a reinstatement of his position on charting an independent foreign policy as provided in the Philippine Constitution."

Signed agreements, commitments of aid, jobs

In  his arrival statement, Duterte said there was clear focus on discussions concerning economic cooperation and partnerships "to benefit our people" on his trip.

In Brunei, the president  and  Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah talked about deepening bilateral relations, particularly through economic cooperation.

In Beijing, Duterte said 13 agreements were signed – most of which are economic in nature.

He said there was extensive discussion spanning trade and investments, infrastructure and tourism, science and technology and health.

Duterte also mentioned that issues on overlapping claims in the South China Sea were discussed. He said both the Philippines and China "acknowledged the need to settle disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law."

U.S. Embassy rally must be treated with 'civility'

When asked for his reaction on the violent dispersal of protesters  at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, Duterte said he wants to talk to both the police and the militants.

He said he was not justifying what happened, but that the matter should be handled with "civility."

My hero is Putin

In a light moment during the press conference, CNN international correspondent Will Ripley asked Duterte which U.S. presidential candidate he would get along with best.

Duterte said, "I would like to answer your question candidly, honestly, and truthfully. Problem is – personally, of course, it doesn't matter much – but I am a president of a country and we have these splendid relations with America...I cannot gamble an answer."

He added, "Either way it would affect...we might create a hostility here, antagonism here. So, I'm better off in saying that my favorite hero is Putin."