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Obama Meets Philippines President, Still No Apology for ‘Son of a Whore’ Comment

The government of the Philippines has confirmed that President Barack Obama met “informally” with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, after canceling an official meeting over Duterte referring to Obama as a “putang ina” (“son of a whore”).

The Associated Press quotes Philippine Foreign Secretary Pefecto Yasay as stating definitively, “I am confirming that they met.” The two heads of state were attending the same dinner in Laos at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a member. The summit is Duterte’s first event abroad as president.

“I am happy. This shows that the relationship between the two allies is strong,” Yasay told reporters. The White House has not confirmed the comment, and photos from the dinner event show the two men in each other’s vicinity, but not speaking to each other. Yasay did not specify what the two men spoke of, or if they did more than introduce themselves.

Duterte was scheduled to meet Obama Tuesday, and warned shortly before the meeting that he would not allow Obama to question him on the Philippines’ recent human rights record. Duterte’s signature campaign promise was to unleash an all-out war on the illegal drug trade; an estimated 2,000 people have died so far, many in police-related killings. In the process of asserting this point, Duterte said of Obama, “putang ina, I will swear at you,” prompting the White House to cancel the meeting.

“Words matter, and we want to see an atmosphere that is cordial and open to strong cooperation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said of the cancelation on Wednesday. A U.S. official told Reuters, however, that he did not expect the incident to inflame relations in the long term. “The areas that we believe we have robust, strong cooperation with them, we are not going to just simply throw that aside,” the official noted, adding that it appeared Duterte was “feeling his way into the new job.”

Duterte has not apologized for the offending comments, though his presidential office released a statement regretting that anyone was offended. Duterte often uses the profane phrase, and has referred to senior Philippine leaders and Pope Francis as “putang ina.”

The spat with President Obama has already cost the Philippines richly. According to the UK Independent, $58 million in foreign investments left the Philippine market on Wednesday, with the Philippine Stock Exchange Index falling 1.3 percent today amid concerns that Duterte is too unstable a leader to keep the economic healthy. Militarily, China immediately exploited the public rift to send a growing fleet of coast guard ships into the Scarborough Shoal – Philippine territory in the South China Sea – as the U.S.’s disposition to aid Manila in the event of a military altercation with Beijing wanes.

 

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