VIENTIANE, LAOS – Just after a brief meeting between the U.S. President Barack Obama and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the East Asia Summit, thinking that all was well for the two President Duterte decides to show a picture of killings by the American soldiers during his speech.
The Philippine president reportedly ‘shocked’ some people in the room by saying, “These are my ancestors being killed, so why are we now talking about human rights? We have to talk (about) the full spectrum of the human rights,” Nikkei wrote.
In 1906, around 600 Muslims were killed in the southern island of Mindanao, as Americans moved to control the Philippine archipelago after Spain ceded its longtime colony to the U.S. in 1898.
The Philippine foreign ministry said in a statement, “In the passionate intervention of President Duterte, he underscored the need to take a long historical view of human rights mindful of the atrocities against the ethnic people of Mindanao.”
The U.S. and the Philippines Presidents had spoken alone on Wednesday night in a holding room before going to a dinner for leaders attending the summit.
On Thursday, answering a question at a briefing of what he said to Duterte, Obama replied that he told the Philippine leader to fight criminality ‘the right way’.
Over 2,400 people linked to drugs have been killed in a war on crime, since Duterte became Philippine’s President on June 30. The bloody campaign does not have much opposition in the country but has agitated human rights advocates including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In his prepared speech, Duterte was to speak on maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, where China has built at least seven artificial islands equipped with runways and radar to support its territorial claim in nearly the entire water body.
He was also to call for the ‘full respect of legal and diplomatic processes’ in solving disputes.
The Philippines, Japan, the U.S. and Australia had criticised China during last year’s summit for its reclamation in the South China Sea.
Philippine officials insist he did mention the South China Sea argument during his mixture, but the diplomatic source said Duterte ignored the prepared speech.
His time and discussions on the maritime dispute centered on the need for a code of conduct, a diplomatic source said.
China seemed to have taken advantage of the situation, as Premier Li Keqiang focused his speech on ‘collaboration’.
“I think the premier tried to seize the momentum about cooperation,” the source said.
And AFP reported that after warnings from Duterte that he would not be lectured on his crime war – which is letting police and shadowy assassins kill an average of 44 people a day – Obama urged the Philippine leader to respect the rule of law.
“As despicable as these (crime) networks may be and as much damage as they do, it is important from our perspective to make sure that we do it the right way,” Obama told reporters when asked about his conversation with Duterte.
“Because the consequences of when you do it the wrong way are innocent people get hurt, and you have a bunch of unintended consequences that don’t solve the problem.”
AFP wrote, according to three diplomats who were in the room, digressing from his prepared speech Duterte launched into a tirade about US military killings in the Philippines when it was an American colony from 1898 to 1946.
A diplomat described the speech as ‘normal Duterte’.
At the press conference on the end of his trip to Vientiane, Obama also said he was unfazed by Duterte’s earlier disdain.
“I don’t take these comments personally because it seems as if this is a phrase he’s repeatedly used including directed at the pope and others,” Obama said.
He added that such choice words were ‘a habit, a way of speaking for him’.
Duterte has branded Pope Francis, the US ambassador to Manila and the United Nations as “sons of whores”.
Meanwhile, Jamaica Observer reported that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, one of Duterte’s close aides who accompanied the Philippines President to Vientiane, said the Wednesday brief meeting ended well, and there was no talk about the spat.
In a statement, he said Duterte and Obama shared ‘a warm handshake [and]a good conversation’.
“All’s well that ends well. You could see that there is an effort from both sides to patch things up,” Cayetano said.
“In diplomacy, you do not usually go to the past and say, ‘Why did that happen?’ You can’t blame anyone. It won’t be productive. The Philippines and the US have a longstanding partnership and relationship. There will be bumps along the way… But it won’t hurt to have a popular President on our side,” he added.
Duterte also met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the ASEAN dinner on Wednesday. A Philippines news’ photo showed Duterte shaking hands with Ban.
Duterte also skipped the ASEAN summits with the United States and India in Vientiane on Thursday, because he was not feeling well.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr said, “He was not feeling well in the morning, so he missed the two sessions.”
“But he was able to attend the East Asia Summit with 18 world leaders and the rest of the day’s remaining schedule until departure for Indonesia early evening today (Thursday),” he added.