Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is receiving some light mockery in national media after meeting Russian strongman Vladimir Putin over the weekend, an exchange Duterte giddily described as concluding with Putin promising to give Duterte a gun as a gift if he visits Russia.
“Sounding like a starstruck schoolboy who just met his idol, the Philippine leader gushed about his initial interactions with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit,” the Philippine Inquirerreported Monday. Both world leaders were in Lima, Peru, to attend the conference, the first face-to-face meeting between the two heads of state since Duterte assumed his nation’s presidency in June.
Duterte went on at length to reporters about Putin’s laughter: “It’s like… The way…It’s something that you feel. Because his laugh is big. He has a wide laugh. His laugh is wide,” he said. The Inquirer described Duterte as “uncharacteristically at a loss for words.”
“According to news reports, he does not laugh. But he was smiling all along,” Duterte said of Putin. “He said ‘do not forget to visit Russia. I reserved something for you there.’ ‘True?’ ‘Gun.’ He loves guns.”
Duterte added that he joked to Putin, “pare [buddy], don’t tell this to the media of the Philippines, but [in stage whisper] don’t mind America…” and that he felt “like we’ve known each other for so long and even the way we pat each other’s hand in a handshake.”
The Philippine president promised to accept Putin’s invitation to Russia, but not for some months. “I can’t stand the cold,” he admitted.
Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. claimed that Putin appeared to reciprocate Duterte’s warmth. “Generally, what President Putin said is that we share your sentiments,” he claimed, according to the Philippine Star.
Duterte’s enamored disposition towards Putin, a serial human rights violator whose defining foreign policy has been the colonization of neighboring states through military force, represents a significant shift from his attitude towards American President Barack Obama, who he has referred to on multiple occasions as the “son of a whore.” Duterte’s enthusiasm for Putin is no surprise, however, as the Philippine head of state has been open about his admiration since he took office.
“I like Putin… We have similarities. When it comes to girls,” Duterte said in August, changing his tone to a cheerful one after being asked first whether he was excited to meet President Obama.
“You know, if China and Russia would decide to create a new order, I would be the first to join,” Duterte said last week, preempting his meetings with their two heads of state.
The Philippines has long-standing ties to the United States, to which it owes much of its security, particularly in the face of aggressive neighbors like China and Russia. Duterte has vowed to shift Manila’s alliances towards its enemies, however, having declared that the Philippines would officially say “goodbye” to America in October after “cross[ing] the Rubicon.” Duterte’s goodbye appears to be a reaction to the White House’s warnings that his administration should adhere to international human rights norms as it engages in a national war against drug trafficking. As a presidential candidate, Duterte encouraged the extrajudicial killing of drug suspects by both law enforcement and civilians, and repeatedly vowed to kill anyone who opposed a swift purge of drug abuse in the island nation.