MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte's statement that Chinese President Xi Jinping assured him that he would not get ousted is "dumbfounding," a maritime expert said Wednesday.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said Duterte's statement appears to be a "public relations disaster."
"It's dumbfounding really," Batongbacal told ANC.
"The message he (Duterte) sent is that China is protecting him and would essentially be protecting also the Philippines when it is China that is the primary concern," he added.
According to Duterte, Xi gave him assurances that he would not get ousted.
"The assurances of [President] Xi Jinping were very encouraging… 'We will not allow you to be taken out from your office, and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs,'" Duterte quoted Xi as saying.
Duterte made the remark on Tuesday during a send-off ceremony for Filipino scientists who will study Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) in Casiguran, Aurora.
"I am of course concerned and I think our people should be because the whole point of the activity that he was in was for the President to give assurances to the Filipino people of his commitment to protect the Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in our maritime jurisdiction," Batongbacal said.
"Quite frankly, It's like a public relations disaster for the President to be saying such things in an activity that is meant to convey the opposite message," he added.
Batongbacal earlier said the continental shelf is not a hotly contested area and the government should instead work on asserting its rights on the West Philippine Sea.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has spoken fondly of his counterpart Xi, and has chosen to downplay Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing.