ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines: Protesters briefly interrupted an Independence Day speech by President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday as they waved signs and jeered the tough-talking leader.
Duterte had just started delivering his speech for the 120th commemoration of Philippine Independence in the northern province of Cavite when a small but loud group shouted “Duterte traitor!”, “Fake independence!” and “Oust Duterte!”.
Caught off guard, police immediately ushered the protesters out.
“Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and free expression,” Duterte was quoted by local media as saying as he ordered law enforcement to deal with the protesters peacefully and with maximum tolerance.
“We cannot agree at all times for all seasons,” said Duterte.
“We may not understand each other, [but] at least there is a common denominator between us, and that is love for our country. Nobody can ever question my love for this country,” he added as he proceeded with his speech.
Though he surprised angry protestors outside Congress last July by meeting them after delivering his two-hour State of the Nation address, this is the first time Duterte was jeered at a formal event since he assumed office in 2016.
At the same event, Duterte was seen talking to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Zhao was also seen engaging in conversation with Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana.
Though it was not disclosed in reports what they were talking about, the Philippines on Monday confirmed that it has asked China to “discipline” its coast guard personnel who have been habitually confiscating the catch of Filipino fishermen within the country’s 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
Fishermen who spoke in a briefing to local media claimed the situation had improved since Duterte became president but stressed that China remains in control of Scarborough Shoal.