RELATIONS between Manila and Washington hit a snag on Tuesday after the White House canceled a meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Barack Obama that was supposed to take place on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in Laos.
In Washington, US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price announced the cancellation of the bilateral meeting and said Obama would instead meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Duterte had launched a fresh tirade against the US and Obama before leaving for the Asean summits on Monday, saying in a news conference the Philippines is not a US lapdog and it would be disrespectful of Obama to raise the issue of extrajudicial killings during their meeting.
He questioned Obama’s right to challenge him on human rights and called the US President a “son of a whore,” in remarks widely reported by the international press.
On Tuesday, Duterte issued a statement expressing regret over the outburst, while his aides downplayed the cancellation and appeared to blame the media for provoking the Philippine leader.
“While 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,” Duterte said.
The meeting “has been mutually agreed upon to be moved to a later date,” he said.
Duterte reiterated that other countries should not interfere in Philippine affairs.
“Our primary intention is to chart an independent foreign policy while promoting closer ties with all nations, especially the US with which we have had a long-standing partnership,” Duterte said.
“We look forward to ironing out differences arising out of national priorities and perceptions, and working in mutually responsible ways for both countries,” he added.
Thankful for support during G20
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte was also thankful for Obama’s “firm support for the Philippines during the G20” in connection with a maritime dispute with China.
Andanar, who was with Duterte in Laos, noted that Obama had emphasized the need for China to abide by its obligation under international law, and “underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to the security of its treaty allies.”
In Manila, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the chief government caretaker in Duterte’s absence, claimed the President’s outburst won’t affect Philippines-US relations.
“Duterte’s only message was that the Philippines has its own territory, let us address our problems in our own way,” he said in a radio interview.
“We don’t meddle in your affairs. We are not your colony,” Medialdea added.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said media reports that Obama would “lecture” Duterte on extrajudicial killings led to the latter’s “strong comments.”
“The President looks forward to ironing out differences arising out of national priorities and perceptions, and working in mutually responsible ways for both countries,” the DFA said.
Addressing the rising number of deaths tied to Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, the DFA echoed the President’s belief that “the fight against illegal drugs, terrorists, crimes and poverty must be won in order to preserve the principle and values upon which our democratic way of life is anchored.”
Duterte’s latest tirade against the US came after his departure speech before flying to the Laotian capital of Vientiane from Davao City.
He was replying to a question from an international wire agency on how he would respond if President Obama raised the issue of extrajudicial killings.
Among many other statements, Duterte said of Obama: “You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum.”
“We will be wallowing in the mud like pigs if you do that to me,” he said.
Obama on Monday already hinted that the meeting won’t take place, when asked for a reaction to Duterte’s statements following the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China.
“He’s a colorful guy,” Obama said on the eve of the scheduled face-to-face, before pointedly noting: “I always want to make sure if I’m having a meeting that it’s actually productive.”
Obama acknowledged that fighting drug syndicates was serious and difficult, but said: “We’ve got to do it the right way.”
The Duterte-Obama tiff is the second irritant to Philippines-US relations in the 10 weeks Duterte has been in power.
On August 8, the Philippine charge d’affaires in Washington, Patrick Chuasoto, was summoned by the State department to explain Duterte’s remarks about outgoing US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who had criticized the President during the election campaign.
“As you know, I’m fighting with [US Secretary of State John Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off,” Duterte said.
WITH AFP AND PNA