Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sep 8 – US President Barack Obama urged Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte Thursday 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 acid-tongued Duterte branding Obama a “son of a whore”.
After warnings from Duterte that he would not be lectured on 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 told reporters when asked about his conversation with Duterte on the sidelines of Laos meetings.
“Because the consequences of when you do it the wrong way are innocent people get hurt and you have a bunch of unintended consequences that don’t solve the problem.”
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 three diplomats AFP spoke with 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”.
– ‘Normal Duterte’ –
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.
“You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum,” Duterte told reporters shortly before flying to Laos.
At the press conference marking the end of his trip to Laos, Obama said he was unfazed by Duterte’s slur.
“I don’t take these comments personally because it seems as if this is a phrase he’s used repeatedly including directed at the pope and others,” Obama said.
He added that such choice words were “a habit, a way of speaking for him”.
Duterte has branded Pope Francis, the US ambassador to Manila and the United Nations as “sons of whores”.
However, Obama cancelled a meeting with Duterte scheduled for Tuesday because of the outburst.
They met on Wednesday night before a leaders’ dinner in what Obama described as “not a long interaction”.
– ‘More will be killed’ –
Duterte has said the Philippines is in danger of becoming a “narco state”, and eliminating drugs in society is the top priority of his administration.
Duterte was elected to office in a landslide this year after pledging to kill 100,000 people in an unprecedented war on crime.
He vowed in the campaign that so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the fish there would grow fat from feeding on them.
Duterte has also repeatedly promised to protect police from prosecution if they are charged over the deaths and insisted human rights cannot get in the way of his war.
On the day he was sworn into office, June 30, Duterte urged people living in a Manila slum to kill drug addicts in their community.
His handpicked police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, last month called for drug addicts to kill traffickers and burn down their homes.
The United Nations special rapporteur on summary executions has warned incitement to kill is a crime under international law.
However Duterte has remained unrepentant.
“More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets,” Duterte said on Monday.