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President Duterte retracts comments after US President cancels scheduled meeting with him

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was scheduled to meet Barack Obama in Laos on Tuesday, and he had made it clear that he will take no lecture on human rights from the U.S. president, alleging the United States "has shot black people even when they were already lying down".

However, the scheduled meeting has been cancelled and in a statement read out by a spokesman on Tuesday (6 September), Mr Duterte said his ‘strong comments’ to certain questions by a reporter ‘elicited concern and distress’.

Duterte had earlier said, “I am a president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Putang ina I will swear at you in that forum,” he said. Putang ina is a tagalog phrase for “son of a bitch”.

He was responding to a question on what he would say to the U.S president about his war on drugs, given that over 2000 individuals have been reported killed as a result of the campaign.

“We also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US president.” read the spokesman.

Mr Duterte said both sides mutually agreed to postpone the meeting.

“We look forward to ironing out differences arising out of national priorities and perceptions, and working in mutually responsible ways for both countries,” the statement said.

Mr Duterte also said he would ‘demand’ that Mr Obama allow him to first explain the context of his crackdown before engaging the US president in a discussion of the deaths.

Meanwhile, Philippine stocks fell due to a sell-off after President Barack Obama cancelled his meeting with the country’s president.

Reaction to criticism on the "war on drugs"

In response to criticism on his sanction of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers, Duterte delivered scornful accusation on his main critic, Senator Leila de Lima, charging her of dealing in drugs herself and having an affair with her driver.

De Lima was reported to have told Reuters last week, "It's only the president who can stop this,", taking a dim view of what she described as the "madness" that in one case has caused the death of a five-year-old girl being shot in the head.

CNBC also reported Duterte’s reaction to critics from abroad, in language larded with curses.

Death tolls rising in the "war on drugs"

Last week the total of people killed amounted to 2,400, of which about 900 died in police operations.

The rest are 'deaths under investigation' - a downsizing term used for vigilante and extrajudicial killings - as the human rights activists say.

On the internet, a phone video footage has circulated showing the killing of  22-year-old pedicab driver Eric Quintinita Sison.

According to local officials, Sison was killed last month when police were looking for drug pushers in Pasay township of the Philippines' capital.

The video,  which reported by local newspapers as recorded by a neighbour, screamed a voice: "Don't do it, I'll surrender!," but following it was the sound of gunfire.

Relatives of Eric Quintinita Sison in Philippines / photo: complexmathematics.tech
Relatives of Eric Quintinita Sison in Philippines / photo: complexmathematics.tech

The body of 22-year-old pedicab driver Eric Sison laid in a coffin in a Manila; a poster near the coffin shouted: "Justice for Eric Quintinita Sison" and a hand painted sign read: "OVERKILL - JUSTICE 4 ERIC."

That was a rare action of protest against the surge of killings emerged since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines over two months ago.

Duterte pledged to war on drug dealers, and so far nothing seems to stands in the way of his overwhelming actions.

He had nationalised and mobilised with remarkable speed a vicious model for fighting crime, that he started when he ruled as the mayor of Davao for 22 years.

Rights groups said death squads operated with impunity and documented hundreds of suspicious murders in Davao.

"The Punisher", as some call Duterte, denies ordering extrajudicial killings but he does not condemn them.

But amazingly, hardly anyone turned up to protest against these extrajudicial killings; a poll in July by Pulse Asia showed Duterte's approval rating was at 91 percent.

On 29 August, police told reporters they had opened fire that night on a drug suspect in Tondo, a dirt-poor and densely populated district of Manila.

A Reuters reporter looked into the suspect's one-room home and saw a mattress splattered with blood. He asked a neighbour how many shots had been fired, but the man replied: "Sorry, my friend. I didn't hear a single shot," and walked away.