Duterte is consistent on independent foreign policy — Palace spokesman

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — When President Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation from the United States" during his state visit to China last week, the remarks sent waves of shock and confusion through Filipinos, the international community and even his own Cabinet.

But for Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, Duterte has always been consistent in his desire to forge an independent foreign policy.

Duterte told Philippine and Chinese business leaders in Beijing on Oct. 20 that America had "lost now."

"I announce my separation from the United States," he said then. He added he would seek closer commercial ties with China and Russia.

The statement first "sounded complex," Abella said in an interview on CNN Philippines' "The Source" on Tuesday.

But it was "still part of his consistent message that we are... not just being exclusive, but opening ourselves up to other parties (while) maintaining our own particular direction and independence," Abella added.

"As he has said again and again, 'Listen to what I've said.' In other words, he has a history," he said. "(Duterte) seems to be pretty consistent in his general concepts, general directions."

Related: Duterte clarifies statement on U.S.

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the new approach was aimed at releasing the Philippines from America's "tight grip," though Manila will respect its existing agreements with Washington.

Related: Yasay: No backtracking on separating Philippine foreign policy from U.S.

The push towards an independent foreign policy was also reiterated by Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Monday.

But while the Philippines seeks closer commercial ties with China, Panelo said this did not mean the country will be "subservient" to China.

Related: Panelo: The Philippines won't be subservient to China

China has refused to recognize the Philippines' rightful claims to the South China Sea despite an international tribunal ruling in the Philippines' favor.

Read: PH wins arbitration case vs. China

Abella said that going by the President's announcements, a statement from China about Scarborough Shoal is "something we should look forward to positively."

Related: Duterte: We may soon exercise fishing rights in Scarborough

The shoal is part of the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

It was used by Filipino fishermen as fishing grounds and as a haven from storms until they were driven away by the Chinese and prohibited from fishing there.

Decoding Duterte: "Connect the dots"

Abella says he has advised the media not to take Duterte literally, and to "use creative imagination" when decoding him.

When asked if he and the Cabinet found it difficult to clarify the President's statements, Abella replied, "Yes and no."

Following any controversial statement, Abella says he consults with the President and the cabinet secretaries.

"I talk with a number of them and we come to a consensus," he said, adding that all the members of the cabinet and Duterte were in "the same sphere."

"It's just learning to connect the dots and his dots are pretty clear," the spokesman said.

State of foreign relations

"We'll finish up what needs to be finished on this stage," said Abella of Philippine-American arrangements, particularly the last military exercises for this year.

Read: Duterte wants to end military exercises with U.S.

"As far as we know they're not cutting out any (ties), we're honoring whatever has been laid (out)," the spokesman told "The Source."

The U.S., in reaction to Duterte's statements, has said it will stand by the Philippines and had yet to receive any formal notification from the government that it wished to break any ties.

In line with the shift in foreign policy, Duterte has maintained that the country can survive without foreign aid and has even dared other countries to withdraw their assistance.

The Philippines should try to break the "mendicant mindset," but aid and assistance would still likely be accepted if it were given out of goodwill or as part of an agreement, said Abella.

"I suppose when aid comes in, it's something to be welcomed," he added.

Related: PH receives ₱90 million in typhoon disaster aid from China

President Duterte is now in Japan, on an official visit that marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Read: Duterte to tackle strategic ties and possibly South China Sea dispute in Japan trip

Japan is the Philippines' number one trading partner and is one of the top donors and investors in the country.