Duterte steals the show at summit
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed regret over his remarks referring to US President Barack Obama, in a rare display of contrition by a politician whose wide arc of profanities has unabashedly targeted world figures, including the pope and the UN chief.
In a statement read out by his spokesman, Duterte said that while his “strong comments” in response to certain questions by a reporter “elicited concern and distress, we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US president”.
Duterte had made the intemperate remarks on Monday before flying to Laos, where he is attending a regional summit. He had been scheduled to meet Obama separately, but Obama indicated he had second thoughts.
Yesterday Duterte said both sides mutually agreed to postpone the meeting.
Even though Duterte’s latest comment does not amount to an apology, the expression of regret is unusual for the tough-talking former mayor, who is unapologetic about his manner of speech and liberally peppers his casual statements with profanities. But perhaps Duterte’s aides realised it would be unwise to take on the most powerful official in the world, and there would be a price to pay for insulting the President of the United States. The US is one of the Philippines’ largest trading partners and a key security ally in its fight against terrorism in the country’s south. Manila also needs Washington’s help in dealing with a more assertive China in the disputed South China Sea. Yesterday, Southeast Asian leaders met to discuss issues ranging from terrorism to South China Sea. The 10-nation ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The summit will be followed by a series of other meetings today and a summit tomorrow between leaders from ASEAN and other countries, including the US, China, Russia and India.