Obama snubs Duterte
By Ted Alcuitas
President Barack Obama canceled a planned meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in a rare diplomatic rupture that follows an outbreak of tensions between two close allies over the Philippines’ new drug war, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The White House said last week that Mr. Obama was planning to meet with Mr. Duterte during his trip to Laos for a summit of Asian leaders beginning Tuesday. The meeting would have been the first between the world leaders since Mr. Duterte took office in June.
Duterte was initially reported to be considering cancelling his first overseas trip to be in the country after a deadly bomb blast in his former city of Davao on September 2.
But in a notable expression of U.S. concern, Mr. Obama on Monday cast doubt on those plans, suggesting he may pull out of the meeting over bombastic comments from the Philippine leader demanding their discussion not touch on his approach to human rights. After Mr. Obama arrived in Laos, the White House early Tuesday said the meeting with Mr. Duterte wouldn’t occur and that Mr. Obama would instead meet with South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, says The Wall Street Journal.
“President Obama will not be holding a bilateral meeting with President Duterte of the Philippines,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement.
It is rare for Mr. Obama to cancel a meeting with a world leader in an intentional snub. In 2013, he backed out of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Moscow granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information over White House objections.
Mr. Obama said Monday that he expects the U.S. and the Philippines, a treaty ally, to maintain close relations.
However, speaking at a news conference in China before flying to Vientiane, Mr. Obama said he directed his aides to talk with their Philippine counterparts to make sure “the timing is right” for a meeting after learning that Mr. Duterte said forcefully on Monday that the U.S. president has no standing to confront him about human rights and that “plenty will be killed” in the Philippines’ antidrug campaign.
Responding to questions from local reporters Monday about how he would react if Mr. Obama raised the human-rights issue, Mr. Duterte appeared angry and blamed the U.S.—which ran the Philippines as a colony until 1946—for causing the country’s problems.
“The Philippines is not a vassal state—we have long since ceased to be a colony of the United States,” said Mr. Duterte, rejecting criticism of his efforts to curb crime.
Obama is a “son of a whore”
Duterte has been reported as calling the U.S. president “son of a whore”.
The defiant Filipino leader has responded to critics with a string of outbursts, including labelling the US ambassador to Manila a “gay son of a whore”, telling the Catholic church “don’t fuck with me”, and accusing the UN of issuing “shitting” statements about his anti-drugs policies.
Since Mr. Duterte became president, police and vigilantes have killed more than 2,000 people in the Philippinesas part of Operation Double Barrel. The killings have led to allegations of human-rights abuses and criticism from the United Nations and human-rights groups. They have also drawn statements of concern from the U.S. State Department.
“Clearly he’s a colorful guy,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the end of a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in China. “What I’ve instructed my team to do is to talk to their Philippine counterparts to find out: Is this in fact a time where we can have constructive, productive conversations?” he said.
Administration officials didn’t elaborate on the administration’s calculation in canceling the meeting, or whether the talks ordered by Mr. Obama ended without a resolution, but made clear it came in response to Mr. Duterte’s comments Monday. There was no immediate reaction from Manila.
The U.S. and the Philippines are longstanding treaty allies, and Manila relies on American support in its territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Washington is also due to deploy troops to the Philippines as part of the Obama administration’s strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region under terms of a 2014 defense pact.
Mr. Obama said that the U.S. recognizes the significant challenges posed by drug trafficking, but that it needs to be combated in a way that is consistent with international norms.
“Undoubtedly, if and when we have a meeting, this is something that’s going to be brought up,” Mr. Obama said.
The American and Philippine leaders are in Laos for a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Mr. Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to travel to Laos, a visit aimed at moving relations past wartime wounds. He said he plans to announce “some really concrete assistance” to Laos to help the small Southeast Asian country clean up unexploded bombs the U.S. dropped during the Vietnam War.
“Their capacity alone to clean that up is hampered by a lack of resources,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference in China before flying to Vientiane. “We should help.”