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Philippine President Expresses Regret for Vulgar Comment About Obama

  • VOA Staff

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives at the National Convention Center for scheduled bilateral meetings with ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits and other related summits Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives at the National Convention Center for scheduled bilateral meetings with ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits and other related summits Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed regret Tuesday that a comment he made involving vulgar language came across as a personal attack against U.S. President Barack Obama.

"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 a long standing partnership," he said in a statement.

Don't lecture me

Before departing Monday for a regional summit in Laos, Duterte warned Obama not to lecture him about a crackdown on drug traffickers that has resulted in more than 2,000 killings since he took office in June.

"You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions," Duterte said. Using the Tagalog phrase for "son of a bitch," he then said: "Putang ina, I will swear at you in the forum."

Obama initially shrugged off Duterte's comments, telling reporters, "Clearly, he's a colorful guy." But the White House later said Obama had canceled a planned meeting with Duterte and would instead hold talks with South Korea's leader.

WATCH: Obama on Duterte's outburst


Use of profanity not unusual

"Those comments are going to prevent us from a productive discussion," Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor said Tuesday in Laos. "We're at a new chapter in our relationship."

The statement from Duterte expressed regrets that his comments had caused "much controversy" and said that he looked forward to "ironing out differences."

Duterte's use of profanity is a pattern of speech he often uses when irked, Asian Foundation analyst Steven Rood in Manila told VOA's Victor Beattie. He used similar language to describe Pope Francis's visit to the Philippines in 2015.

"He and his followers regard that as a normal pattern of speech, but of course when President Obama wonders whether or not a meeting with him would be productive, that pattern of speech might cause some doubts," Rood said.

Though the "spat" certainly does not help U.S.-Philippine relations, the two countries have robust military relations as well as a USAID program, so Rood says there are many reasons for the relationship to go forward.

Duterte, who campaigned for the Philippine presidency on promises to end illegal drug activity in his homeland, has alarmed an array of human rights organizations with his deadly crackdown. He has defended the killings, saying he is following the will of those who elected him.

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