One day after the Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte called Obama a “son of a bitch,” the Philippines scrambled to defuse a row with the United States on Tuesday, shortly after Obama announced he would cancel his meeting with the outspoken president. Duterte announced that he “regrets that his remarks to the press have caused such controversy” but stopped short of offering an official apology. Instead, he said that he has “deep regard and affinity for President Obama” and that he looks “forward to ironing out differences arising out of national priorities and perceptions.” We suspect Duterte’s comments came after after realizing it’s probably not the best idea to attack one of your largest trading partners and a country that provides hundreds of millions of dollars of annual financial assistance to your military.
The White House had earlier said Obama would not pull any punches on his concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines, its treaty ally, when meeting Duterte.
The tiff between the two allies overshadowed the opening of a summit of East and Southeast Asian nations in Laos. It also soured Obama’s last swing as president through a region he has tried to make a focus of U.S. foreign policy, a strategy widely seen as a response to China’s economic and military muscle-flexing. According to diplomats, Duterte’s recent outbursts could compound Washington’s difficulties in forging a united front with Southeast Asian partners on the geostrategic jostle with Beijing over the South China Sea.
Perhaps forgetting how desperately he needs the US as an ally against a resurgent, nationalist China, Duterte has bristled repeatedly at criticism over his “war on drugs”, which has killed about 2,400 people since he took office two months ago, and on Monday said it would be “rude” for Obama to raise the question of human rights when they met. Such a conversation, Duterte told reporters, would prompt him to curse at Obama, using a Filipino phrase “putang ina” which can mean “son of a bitch” or “son of a whore”.
As we reported yesterday, President Obama canceled his meeting with Duterte, which was originally scheduled for today in Loas, after expressing doubts over whether the two could have “constructive, productive conversations.” Per Reuters, a Duterte representative made the following comments to the press.
“Our primary intention is to chart an independent foreign policy while promoting closer ties with all nations, especially the U.S. We look forward to ironing out differences arising out of national priorities and perceptions, and working in mutually responsible ways for both countries.”
“He regrets that his remarks to the press have caused much controversy. He expressed his deep regard and affinity for President Obama and for the enduring partnership between our nations.”
Duterte’s comments come just one day after threatening to swear at Obama at a conference in Laos which declaring that he is “no American puppet.”
“Who does he think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Son of a bitch I will swear at you in that forum.“
Duterte won the Presidency in May on promises to suppress the drug trade in the Philippines. Since that time about 900 people linked to drugs have been killed in police operations and another 1,500 have been classed as “deaths under investigation” raising concerns about human rights violations by several world leaders.
Duterte has a history of using “colorful” language to describe world leaders. In May, he launched his verbal cascade by calling Pope Francis a “son of a whore”, although he later apologized, and called U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg a “gay son of a whore”.
Meanwhile, unmoved by the regretful Philippine president’s soothing words, instead of meeting Duterte, Obama planned to hold talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, said Ned Price, spokesman for the White House National Security Council – a meeting where the response to North Korea’s latest missile tests is expected to be on the agenda.
A Philippines official who declined to be named said there would be no formal meeting rescheduled in Laos but a short ‘pull-aside’ conversation between the two presidents was still possible.