Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Tuesday defended a violent government campaign against drug traffickers that is killing 1,000 Filipinos per month and backed away – albeit slightly – from profane remarks that led U.S. President Barack Obama to cancel an official state visit to the country.
"We are not butchers who just kill people for no apparent reason," the Filipino leader said in a 38-page pamphlet that was presented at the Southeast Asian and East Asian or Asean summit in Laos.
The statement comes a day after U.S.President Barack Obama decided to cancel a meeting with the controversial leader, who characteristically lashed out in response to Obama's relatively mild criticism of Duterte's war on drugs, which is responsible for what some have claimed is over 2,000 extra-judicial killings since Duterte was sworn-in as president at the end of June.
Obama, who flew to Laos after attending the G20 meeting in China, expressed his concerns about reported extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Speaking in Manila on Monday before leaving for Laos, Duterte asked Obama for “respect” saying the Philippines "was a sovereign nation who has long ceased to be a colony."
"The Philippines is not a vassal state. We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States... I do not respond to anybody but to the people of the Republic of the Philippines. Wala akong pakialam sa kanya, who is he?" Duterte said before departure at the Davao International Airport.
The president, affectionately known to many Filipinos as "Rody," also noted that 600,000 Muslim Filipinos, or Moros, were killed by U.S. military personnel during the pacification campaign that took place prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the island.
Speaking to a reporter, the president also exclaimed "putang ina" – a Tagalog phrase that roughly translates to "son of a whore," but is often used in a manner equivalent to "crap" or "shit" in a manner similar to the Spanish phrase hijo de puta. Following an uproar from Anglo-American press outlets Tuesday, Duterte said he regretted that his comments to media "came across as a personal attack" on Obama. A statement released by the president's office claimed that the insult was, in fact, aimed at the journalist rather than the U.S. president.
However, the White House had already cancelled the scheduled meeting that was due to take place with the two men attended the ASEAN summit in Laos.
The Philippines has for years been an ally of the United States in Southeast Asia, a very sensitive zone for Washington and an area that it takes care a lot, especially for the presence of China. However, many have derided what they've referred to as a "neocolonial" relationship between the North American superpower and the Southeast Asian archipelago.
But the relations between both countries may assume a different character under President Duterte, who has an infamous "shoot from the lip" approach. The head of state recently referred to the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines as a "gay son of a whore," in addition to calling Pope Francis a "son of a whore" due to traffic disturbances and blasting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as a "crazy" for handing the Phillippines money in exchange for the president's insults.
Duterte led a controversial presidential campaign marked by inflammatory speeches that prompted comparisons with the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. He pledged to kill 100,000 criminals and dump so many in Manila Bay that the "fish will grow fat" from feeding on them.