US President Barack Obama urged Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte yesterday to conduct his crime war “the right way”, as the pair clashed at an Asian summit over the crackdown that has claimed 3 000 lives.
The showdown was a fitting climax to a brutal few days of diplomacy that began with the famously acidtongued Duterte branding Obama a “son of a whore”.
After warnings from Duterte that he would not be lectured about his crime war – which is seeing police and shadowy assassins kill an average of 44 people a day – Obama urged the Philippine leader to respect the rule of law.
“As despicable as these [crime] networks may be and as much damage as they do, it is important from our perspective to make sure that we do it the right way,” Obama said, when asked about his conversation with Duterte on the sidelines of Laos meetings.
Obama’s call came shortly after Duterte gave what diplomats said was a fiery address to leaders of the 18-nation East Asia group, including Obama. Veering off his prepared speech, Duterte launched into a tirade about US military killings in the Philippines when it was an American colony from 1898 to 1946, according to diplomats who were in the room.
“The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the president said: ‘This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights’,” an Indonesian delegate said.
The delegate described the atmosphere in the room as “quiet and shocked”.
Another diplomat described the speech as “normal Duterte”.
Duterte set the tone for the week when, just before flying to Laos on Monday, he launched a barrage of insults at Obama in response to the US president’s plans to question him over his war on drugs.
Obama cancelled a meeting with Duterte scheduled for Tuesday because of the outburst.
But they met on Wednesday night before a leaders’ dinner in what Obama described as “not a long interaction”.