Pres. Rodrigo Duterte // PN image file


President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he plans to vacation in the Kalayaan Group of Islands, also known as the Spratly Islands, even inviting Americans to join him.

He made the remark as he encouraged Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Francisco Duque III, who is facing calls for resignation, to remain.

This also comes after he defended his decision to grant “absolute pardon” to an American soldier who was convicted of homicide for killing a transgender Filipino woman.

Duterte made the remark during his recorded address to the nation Monday (September 7) night while addressing the clamor for Duque’s resignation. The president repeatedly defended the embattled health secretary amidst growing and relentless calls for his resignation.

“One of these days, magtawag ako ng bakasyon. Bakasyon tayo. Mamili ka sa lugar, Secretary. Huwag lang sa labas ng Pilipinas. Dito lang (One of these days, I will call for a vacation. Let’s have a vacation. Choose a place, Secretary,” he told Duque while live on air.

He suggested visiting the Kalayaan Group of Islands in Palawan.

“Maybe we’ll visit Spratlys but we will also invite the Americans to come along. We’re going on a sightseeing tour,” he said during his speech.

Duterte’s remark on inviting Americans came as his Monday night speech consisted highly of defending his decision to pardon US army soldier Scott Pemberton. Pemberton was convicted of homicide after he was found guilty in 2015 of killing transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo, Zambales. Laude’s killing raised the issue of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the USA. Duterte announced in February this year that he would be terminating the VFA, but its termination was suspended in June.

An international court ruled in 2016 that the Kalayaan group belongs to the Philippines, settling its dispute of China’s claims of the islands. However, China has refused to recognize the ruling and continues to make reclamation activities in contested areas. The subject of Kalayaan’s ownership remains to be a heated topic for Duterte, who claimed during his campaign that he would defend the island group from foreign claims.