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VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte claims he ‘never mentioned’ PH-China maritime row in 2016 campaign. He did.

President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that he “never mentioned” anything about the dispute between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea during his campaign for the 2016 presidential election.

This is not true. Watch this video:

But even prior to the “jet ski” remark, at least two media reports have quoted Duterte’s campaign spokesperson Peter Lavina as saying that the then presidential candidate was “fully support[ive]” of the then-pending arbitration case before the PCA.

In July 2016, days into Duterte’s term, the arbitral tribunal ruled that there was “no legal basis” behind China’s nine-dash line claim, which covers almost the entire South China Sea, of which the West Philippine Sea is part.

It also declared certain maritime features in the area — including Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which are both in the Spratly Island Group — to be within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Pro-Duterte blogger makes multiple inaccurate claims on West Philippine Sea, arbitral ruling)

Duterte made his May 3 claim in the course of his tirades against former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who are both vocal critics of his policy regarding the country’s dispute with China on the West Philippine Sea. (See Carpio: PH must work with other countries vs China over disputed territory)

Carpio, who was part of the legal team that argued for the Philippine position in the PCA, currently chairs 1Sambayan, a “broad coalition” of groups seeking to field candidates that would oppose Duterte bets in the 2022 elections. Del Rosario, among other prominent figures, is among its convenors. (See Reject ‘Duterte-like’ candidates in 2022 polls – Carpio)

In a press briefing on May 4, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Duterte administration continues to “assert” the Philippines’ sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea through “bilateral diplomacy” with China, and “multilateral engagements” with neighbors and strategic partners.

Roque said the president’s May 3 statements “should be construed literally” as the latter “did not promise” that he would be able to “return the territories lost” by “other people and other administrations.”

The spokesman said this as he clarified that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s “heated” words against China over the continued “illegal” presence of its vessels in Philippine-claimed waters was “not the policy of the Philippines.”



Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 3, 2021

ABS-CBN News, PiliPinas Debates 2016, April 24, 2016

Al Jazeera, Rodrigo Duterte on drugs, death and diplomacy | Talk to Al Jazeera, Oct. 15, 2016

Merriam-Webster dictionary, Hyperbole, Accessed May 4, 2021

RTVM, Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) 16th National Convention of Lawyers (Speech) 3/23/2017 (transcript), March 23, 2017

RTVM, Opening Ceremony of National Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) Challenge (Speech) 3/1/2018, March 2, 2018, Duterte says he supports arbitration case vs China, April 13, 2016

Manila Standard, Duterte clarifies China tack, April 17, 2016

Permanent Court of Arbitration, PRESS RELEASE: South China Sea Arbitration, July 12, 2016

Official Gazette, Administrative Order No. 29, Sept. 5, 2012

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, May 4, 2021

Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, “China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE FUCK OUT…,” May 3, 2021


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)