BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR AND ANGELA DE LOPEZ DE LEON
PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday hosted his first New Year Vin d’ Honneur as chief executive, but noticeably absent in the event was Vice President Leni Robredo whose camp is being linked to ouster plots against him.
Also absent during the event held in Malacañan Palace were Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said it is the prerogative of Malacañang to decide who to invite to the event.
The event is usually attended by members of the diplomatic corps, government and other guests invited by Malacañang.
Georgina Hernandez, spokeswoman of Robredo, said in a statement that the Office of the Vice President received an invitation to the Vin D’ Honneur via e-mail last December 28.
However, she said the Palace called on January 4 to retract the invitation, saying the guest list was limited.
Robredo has not spoken to Duterte since she resigned as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) after Duterte’s directive for her “to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings” beginning December 5.
Malacañang cited her “irreconcilable differences” with Duterte as reason for such instruction, which Robredo said it made staying in the President’s Cabinet “untenable.”
Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te refused to comment on the absence of Sereno from the Vin D’ Honneur.
Duterte, in his speech, said the Philippines is seeking to build constructive alliances and deepen friendship with other nations based on common objectives, shared values and international laws.
The President also reaffirmed his administration’s goal of defeating corruption, crime and drugs, and armed conflict.
Duterte, since assuming the presidency, had pushed for an independent foreign policy which aims to make the Philippines less dependent on countries like the United States while rebuilding ties and friendship with China and Russia.
He had also been critical of other nations and leaders that called attention to the extra judicial killing and human rights abuse cases being connected to the anti-drug campaign of his administration.
The President, during the event, stressed the importance of respecting the sovereign independence of other nations while maintaining its friendship and close ties.
“The Philippines contends with the realities that are our own. We value partners as we seek strengthened existing friendships even as we pursue new ones. We believe that friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals. In truth, we all share the same aspiration of greater peace, progress, and prosperity,” he said.
“In a world that recognizes our interconnectedness and respect each others’ sovereign independence, the horizons and frontiers of cooperation are virtually limitless. Friendship, after all, knows no bound. The Philippines has and will continue to build on our friendship founded on a common objective, shared values and time honored principles of international law,” he added.
He also urged everyone’s cooperation as the Philippines chairs the Asean this year, adding that it would be an opportunity to advance the regional development agenda of “forging a rules-based community that puts citizens’ welfare at the heart of every initiative.”
Duterte, in offering a toast, also renewed his vow to address “the burdens of slavery to drugs, corruption, criminality and armed rebellion in the south.”
The President said his administration has started instilling genuine reform to encourage more trade and investments, intensify commercial activities, ramp up investment and much-needed infrastructure, increase revenues to make communities more resilient, and improve basic social services.
He said government is also working with stakeholders to bring about just and lasting peace in Mindanao and put an end to rebellion.
He said these changes are necessary to make the Philippines a stronger republic.
Archbishop Guissepe Pinto, dean of the diplomatic corps, in response to the President, said the diplomatic community is in solidarity with the Philippines especially in rebuilding places that have recently been devastated by Typhoon Nina and in helping people left homeless and without jobs.
Pinto also wished for greater progress and prosperity for the Philippines and good health and success for the President and his officials.
Before ending the toasts, the President joked that instead of “cheers” they should use “kanpai” which is usually used by Asians or in his case “half of the kanpai” as “kanpai” usually means bottoms up.
The President was sipping “wine” which presidential protocol chief Marciano Paynor Jr. later said was actually apple cider.