Duterte regrets rant directed at Obama

A combined photo shows US president Barack Obama (left) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sept 5, 2016 and Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 6, 2016.
A combined photo shows US president Barack Obama (left) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sept 5, 2016 and Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 6, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

The Philippines scrambled yesterday to mend fences with its oldest ally, the United States, with President Rodrigo Duterte saying that he regrets directing an expletive at US President Barack Obama over the American leader's concerns about his war on crime.

Mr Obama scrapped a planned meeting with Mr Duterte at the Group of 20 summit in Laos after being told of Mr Duterte's anti-US rant on Monday.

"All the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress. We also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US President," Mr Duterte said in a statement read to reporters by his spokesman Ernesto Abella.

On Monday, Mr Duterte had reacted angrily to a reporter's question on how he would respond should Mr Obama confront him over the 2,400 extrajudicial killings that have blighted his anti-crime push.

Using a Tagalog phrase for "son of a w****", he warned Mr Obama: "Do not do it... We'll both just end up rolling in the mud... You must be respectful."

He said Mr Obama should not presume to lecture him about human rights abuses, as US soldiers had killed more than 600,000 Filipinos during its occupation of the Philippines. "The Philippines is not a vassal state," he said.

At a news conference, Mr Obama said he had told his aides to speak with Philippine officials "to find out is this, in fact, a time where we can have some constructive, productive conversations". Soon afterwards, the White House said the bilateral meeting was off.

Arriving in Laos on Monday night, Mr Duterte was more muted. "I do not want to quarrel with (Mr Obama). He's the most powerful president of any country on the planet," he said.

Mr Duterte's communications minister Martin Andanar said yesterday both sides "have agreed that in the light of the issues that still need to be worked on, the bilateral meeting between the two nations will be postponed".

Mr Abella said Mr Duterte was "looking forward to ironing out differences out of national policies and perceptions and working in mutually responsible ways for both countries".

Mr Andanar added: "While asserting the intent to chart an independent foreign policy and promote closer ties... (Mr Duterte) expresses deep regret, deep regard and affinity for President Obama and for the enduring partnership between our nations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte regrets rant directed at Obama'. Print Edition | Subscribe