Philippines: Duterte Not Appointing U.S. Envoy Because ‘I Don’t Feel Like Sending One’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the Philippine Coast Guard during its 115th anniversary celebration which was highlighted by the commissioning of its vessel from Japan the BRP Tubbataha Wednesday Oct. 12, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. Duterte said he has instructed his defense chief not to prepare for joint exercises with …
AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte announced Thursday that he will not appoint an ambassador to the United States because “I don’t feel like sending one.”

Duterte made the remark during a speech to the Philippine Association of Water Districts, noting that Manila does not currently have representation in Washington and he does not believe this will change for some time.

“In the US, we have no ambassador. No ambassador will go there,” Duterte told the audience. ” Until now, we do not have an ambassador in the United States. I don’t feel like sending one.”

Duterte did not elaborate on why he did not “feel like” appointing an ambassador to represent Filipinos in the United States.

The Philippine website Rappler notes that the Philippine embassy in the United States is still running despite not having an ambassador, under the leadership of Chargé d’Affaires Patrick Chuasoto. The website adds that Duterte’s desire not to have an ambassador in that post appears to be a new development as he had already attempted to appoint one late last year. Duterte nominated palace protocols head Marciano Paynor to the post, who is now working on diplomacy with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Duterte later nominated Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, a columnist, to the post, but he “declined due to health reasons,” according to the Philippine Star.

Duterte’s cavalier dismissal of appointing someone to the post has incensed at least one experienced Filipino diplomat: former ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja. “A regular accredited ambassador can open doors much more evenly and much more reliably than not having one,” he told journalists Friday. “If we don’t have a regular representative there in Washington, that means our representation there will be on a second-tier level because a chargé d’affaires can only have lower access to the echelon of government and lower level of contact with interest groups there.”

Baja protested that the move was unprecedented: “There simply is no policy for us not sending immediately an ambassador there, not unless the President wants to send another message to the United States.”

Duterte has sent many messages to the United States during his term already, which began in June 2016. Towards the end of that year, Duterte repeatedly asserted in public that he was looking to limit ties to America and expand them with China and Russia.“I announce my separation from the United States both in the military… not social, but economics also. America has lost,” Duterte said in October, a statement that “baffled” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Before that statement, Duterte had made much more insulting comments towards America’s ambassador in his country, Philip Goldberg. “I had an argument with their ambassador, that bakla [homosexual]. Son of a bitch, he really annoys me,” Duterte said of Goldberg in August. The Obama administration ultimately relieved Goldberg of his duties in Manila, replacing him with Ambassador Sung Kim. This did not stop Duterte from insulting Goldberg, accusing him of being a CIA spy in December.

While Duterte struggled to maintain a civil relationship with President Barack Obama, whom he twice called a “son of a whore” in public, he appears to be working towards a friendlier relationship with his successor, Donald Trump. Duterte has vocally supported President Trump’s executive order limiting refugee flows from terror-prone countries and warned Filipinos illegally present in the United States that Manila would not help them out of legal trouble if they were caught. “If you are caught and deported, I will not lift a finger. You know that it is a violation of the law,” Duterte warned his citizens earlier this week.

A poll published on Friday by the firm Social Weather Systems (SWS) found that 86 percent of respondents in the Philippines are “very satisfied” with Duterte’s performance as head of state.