It seems that whenever recently elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has the chance to speak publicly, he just can’t suppress his overwhelming desire to call other world leaders as “sons of bitches.”
In May, he used the expression to describe Pope Francis after the pontiff’s visit caused a traffic jam in the capital of Manila. In August, he said the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines was “gay” and the “son of a whore” because the diplomat criticized Duterte’s suggestion he would have liked to have been the first to rape a missionary who was gang raped and killed in the president’s hometown of Davao in the 1980s. And this weekend, he threw the same insult U.S. President Barack Obama’s way, prompting Obama to cancel a meeting the two had scheduled in Laos this week. His reasoning? Obama criticized his shoot-to-kill policy for drug dealers, which has left more than 2,000 dead since June.
As with most times Duterte says something so offensive that it requires a public apology, his office released a written statement to try to clear up the mess.
“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 U.S. president,” Duterte said in a statement. “Our primary intention is to chart an independent foreign policy while promoting closer ties with all nations, especially the U.S., with which we have had a long-standing partnership.”
But it didn’t take long for Duterte to find another podium and take things too far once again — this time threatening to not only execute Islamist militants loyal to terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf, but to eat them alive. “They will pay. When the time comes, I will eat you in front of people,” he said Monday. “If you make me mad, in all honesty, I will eat you alive, raw…I will really carve your torso open. Give me vinegar and salt and I will eat you.”
The controversial president has caused a stir at home in the Philippines, where Duterte has repeatedly said he would kill anyone — including his own children — if he thinks they are using drugs. After the U.N criticized his tough response, Duterte came up with a simple solution: threatening on Aug. 21 to leave the world body if it tries to police him at home again. That’s left his administration’s appointees and aides scrambling to issue apologies at a press conference, explaining that Duterte only made the remarks because he was “tired, disappointed, hungry.”
“We must give him leeway,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Junior said the next day. “He is also human.”
In an interview with al Jazeera last month, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella admitted the job of constantly defending Duterte is a tough one, but also said some of the president’s most offensive remarks sound so aggressive because of translation difficulties.
“I understand that’s why my task is to be able to interpret him and act as a conduit and bring out the true intention of the president,” Abella said.
So far, the strategy of immediately apologizing on his behalf seems to work. On Tuesday, the White House said that while a formal meeting is now off the books, Obama may meet informally with Duterte while attending a summit in Laos.
“I would not expect a formal bilateral meeting, but I think we’ll have an opportunity to interact with him, as with all leaders,” U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Tuesday.
Photo credit: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images