Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the renaming of Benham Rise to Philippine Rise, an event President Rodrigo Duterte’s son Sebastian “Baste” Duterte, commemorated with a symbolic, if slightly goofy, jet ski ride into the area with a Philippine flag.
The renaming of the undersea region 250 kilometers east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela — well within the Philippines’ internationally recognized economic exclusion zone — was the government’s response after Chinese ships were spotted in the area last year.
Late last month, Duterte said in a speech that he would sail to Philippine Rise himself to “make a statement there that nobody but nobody owns this place.”
GMA News reported that the president would have ridden a jet ski as well, echoing a promise he made during his 2016 campaign to “ride a jet ski while bringing the Philippine flag” to contested areas being claimed by China, but plans changed when the Presidential Security Group decided that doing so in the summer heat would be bad for the president’s health.
Baste, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, and other supporters took his place instead, a moment “selfie king” Go shared on Facebook.
But while this was received with much fanfare by the president’s supporters, many have pointed out that this doesn’t actually mean much.
Apart from being a purely symbolic act, Baste and Go didn’t actually reach Philippine Rise. They only made it as far as Aurora province’s Casiguran Bay.
Duterte, meanwhile, did not make it to Philippine Rise either, delivering his speech aboard a ship docked in Casiguran.
More oddly, this public display of “strength” comes as Duterte remains oddly lackadaisical in defending the Philippines’ UN-backed claims to more contentious parts of the South China Sea.
For instance, Duterte has yet to speak out against China’s move earlier this month to set up a missile system in the area, which an international court at the Hague has ruled unequivocally belongs to the Philippines. While talking to reporters, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the president will “not be taking sides on the issue.” Ummm … OK.
“We are not actually doing nothing but we do not want to publicly announce our moves. At the same time, the president has decided not to side with any parties regarding the latest at the West Philippine Sea for the best interest of the Filipinos, and in the name of peace,” he said.
The administration has said multiple times that the Philippines lacks the capability to take on a superpower like China. In February, Duterte even joked about making the Philippines a province of China during an event attended by China’s ambassador.
So much for being a flag bearer.