Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial, recently-elected Philippine president facing international criticism for his violent crackdown on drug dealers, made his international debut an unfortunate one this week at a summit for Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) in Laos.
He missed meetings with U.S. and Indian leaders at the summit, after having previously insulted President Barack Obama. And, according to a verbatim White House pool report from Obama’s small contingent of traveling press, Duterte’s absence was due to a migraine after he was unable to rest on Saturday.
“It’s not regular, but when he is tired and he is always working [he gets headaches],” his spokesman said. “Because lately, before we flew here to Laos, we had a very bad bombing incident…and the president was not able to rest on the weekend which is usually his rest day on Saturday.”
The spokesman was referring to last Friday’s bombing in the president’s hometown of Davao, which coincided with Duterte’s arrival there for a visit. Duterte blamed the attack on Islamist militants loyal to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization, and then said that if he caught any of them he would eat them alive.
“If you make me mad, in all honesty, I will eat you alive, raw…I will really carve your torso open,” he said after the attack. “Give me vinegar and salt and I will eat you.”
Duterte, who’s already made a name for himself by calling both the pope and the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines “sons of bitches,” offered Obama the same honor this week, ahead of a private meeting he had scheduled with the U.S. president. The insult came after Obama expressed concern over Duterte’s shoot-to-kill campaign against drug dealers, which has left thousands dead since June.
Obama’s camp promptly scrapped the bilateral meeting. Duterte then failed to show up for the U.S. summit meeting mentioned above. Entirely coincidentally, he also missed a United Nations meeting last week after Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon expressed similar worries over the human rights situation in the Philippines.
But apparently Obama and Duterte reconciled enough to at least shake hands on Wednesday evening, ahead of a dinner gala at the summit in Laos. According to pool reports, “the exchange consisted of pleasantries between the two.”
The pool report also noted that Duterte’s spokesman did not confirm or deny reports that Duterte’s daughter recently suffered a miscarriage, which also could have contributed to his absence from the meetings.
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