In His Own Words: Rodrigo Duterte & the United States

By Conor Cronin —

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte speaks to soldiers at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Recently, Duterte has made a number of inflammatory statements that have shaken confidence in the stability of the US-Philippines alliance. Source: Wikimedia, public domain.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte speaks to soldiers at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Recently, Duterte has made a number of inflammatory statements that have shaken confidence in the stability of the US-Philippines alliance. Source: Wikimedia, public domain.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has had a reputation for inflammatory and crude remarks since long before voters in the Philippines elevated him to the presidency on May 10. In recent weeks, however, much of that incendiary language has been directed at the United States, its long-time defense ally and the most prominent supporter of Manila’s efforts to defend maritime claims against growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

As Duterte’s rhetoric against the United States heats up, observers have begun to question the stability of the alliance — once an anchor of President Barack Obama’s rebalance to Asia — and what the next six years of Duterte as president might mean for U.S.-Philippine relations.

The excerpts below are a selection of statements made by Duterte and his advisors, as quoted in the Philippine media. Sections in parentheses have been translated from the original Tagalog or Visayan into English by the respective news outlets.

Duterte’s statements:

Duterte responds to media questions on how he will address Obama’s concern over human rights:

September 5, Davao International Airport, Davao; Rappler Media

“I am not beholden to anybody.  (Those columnists who say), ‘Wait until he meets [Obama]-’ Who is he? 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 away questions and statements. (Son of a whore, I’ll curse you at that forum. Don’t do anything like that to me). Tell that to everybody. (These columnists, it’s like they’re threatening me. Son of a – leave the Philippines, go to America). You write (whatever you like) – you’re the lapdogs of this American. Who is he to confront me? As a matter of fact, America has one too many to answer for the misdeeds in this country. (Up to this day, we have not received any apology from them). That is the reason why Mindanao continues to boil.”


Never called Obama “son of a whore/bitch”:

September 9, Jakarta, Indonesia; Rappler Media

In regards to his above use of the phrase ‘putang ina,’ which many outlets translated as “son of a whore” and said was directed at Obama:

“(It’s common). Everybody, whether American, African who knows English would say, ‘son of a bitch,’ ‘son of a gun.’ It is not ‘son of a whore,’ that is never the translation,”

‪”(These Americans are really good). The Americans can spin a story. They use the predicate or the adjective that is really worst to hear.”

“[The media] can spin everything. Me? I don’t give a shit. Because I’m not the president of the international community,” he said.

When Duterte ran into Obama before the ASEAN gala in Vientiane, Laos:

“(I told him in the) holding room, ‘President Obama I’m President Duterte. I never made that statement, you can check it out.’ [Obama said] ‘My men will talk to you.’ (I said), ‘Okay,'”

“(Those in the State Department are like a bunch of fools gathered together).”


Criticized U.S. human rights record and derided U.S. military assistance while praising China:

September 9, Jakarta, Indonesia; Rappler Media

At the East Asia Summit plenary, Duterte dropped a written text that called for “full respect” of the arbitral tribunal ruling in the South China Sea, and instead held up photos of Filipinos killed by U.S. soldiers in the Moro campaigns in the early 1900s:

“This is human rights. What do you intend to do? Do not tell me that is water under the bridge. Human rights violation, whether committed by Moses or Abraham, is still a violation of human rights.”

“Why has there been no healing in Mindanao? Because they were slaughtered by the imperialists.”

After speaking of Chinese assistance building drug rehabilitation centers:

“”We have received so many things from America. Thank you for your generosity. What they sold us, two, only two FA-50. It’s FA-50 but they never gave us the missiles and the bullets and the cannons to fight. For ceremonial (only),” [Author’s note: the FA-50s are from South Korea, not the United States.]

“[The U.S.] just gave you principles of law and nothing else.”


He skipped U.S.-ASEAN meeting “on principle,” not due to illness:

September 12, Malacañang Palace, Manila; Rappler Media

“I purposely did not attend the bilateral talks between ASEAN countries and the ambassador of the president of the United States. (I really skipped it.) I attended all others.”

“The reason is not I am anti-West, the reason is not I do not like the Americans. It is simply a matter of principle for me.”


Duterte says U.S. special forces should leave Mindanao:

September 12, Malacañang Palace, Manila; Rappler Media

“(Those special forces), they have to go. They have to go. In Mindanao, (there are lots of white people there).”

“(I didn’t say anything before out of respect or I do not want a rift with Americans but they have to go. It will get more tense. If [Abu Sayyaf terrorists] see an American, they will really be killed. They will demand ransom, they will kill them. Even if you’re black or white, as long as you’re American.)”


No more joint patrols in the South China Sea:

September 13, Villamor Air Base, Parañaque and Pasay, Metro Manila; Rappler Media

“We will not join any expedition or patrolling. I will not allow it because I do not want my country to be involved in a hostile act.”

“Even if it’s really owned by us, which the judgment says it’s ours; entitlements, China would say. That’s beside my point. The point is, I do not want to ride gung-ho style there with China or with America. I just want to patrol our territorial waters,”

“(We won it but it is not part of our territory, it is a part of our exclusive economic zone – the fish, what you see there, even the oil and gas. But the territory is limited to the 12 [nautical] mile limit. We’re only until there. We do not want to go to any patrol.)”


Duterte is looking to purchase arms from China and Russia:

September 13, Villamor Air Base, Parañaque and Pasay, Metro Manila; Rappler Media

“(I would like to ask Defense Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana to accompany the technical people. Go to Russia and China and see what’s the best.)”

“(I told them I want weaponries and armaments, I don’t need jets, the F-16s), that’s of no use to us. We don’t intend to fight any country using that… Let’s content ourselves with even the propeller-driven planes but which we can use extensively (in) anti-insurgency,”


Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay:

Duterte didn’t snub Obama at U.S.-ASEAN summit:

September 13, ABS-CBN News Channel Headquarters, Manila; ABS-CBN

Speaking in an interview one day after Duterte said skipping the summit was intentional:

“Quite frankly, I have not heard that statement, and I would like to understand in what context did the president say that also, so I cannot comment on that.”

“But I will insist and tell you the truth that the reason he was not able to attend these two meetings was because he was not feeling well, and early on, I immediately went, the state officials who were there approached me.”

After the interviewer played back the footage of Duterte’s comment:

“This is something maybe, perhaps, I should discuss with the president what he means, but what I would like to assure people is under the law and under the constitution, it is the president that is the sole architect of our foreign policy. I am merely his alter ego as secretary of foreign affairs.”

“I do not really believe that he purposely did not attend these two meetings that I mentioned [ASEAN-U.S. and ASEAN-India Summit], particularly ASEAN plus the United States because he does not like the Americans.”

“That comment about ‘I do not like Americans’ should be seen in the context of what he earlier said that they did not even apologize for the atrocities and worse, they even criticized me and lectured me on human rights violations.”

Later in the same interview:

No shift in policy towards U.S., after Duterte call for troops to leave Mindanao:

“There is no shift in so far as our policy is concerned with respect to our close friendship with the Americans,”

“Our relationship with the U.S. remains strong and it will continue to be strong.”

“This trip is proof of our good ties with the U.S.”


Presidential spokeman Ernesto Abella:

Comments on Mindanao pullout ‘not automatically policy’:

September 13, Malacañang Palace, Manila; The Philippine Star

“I think this is where the president is beginning to elaborate more and more, on the fact that…the foreign policy that we have is an independent one and not dependent on one superior state or two from which we depend on.”

“These actions, these references he’s making, are intended to communicate to one and all that we need to be ready to chart our own course and find our own alliances.”

“It is not automatically policy but it is the basis of policy.”

Following a question regarding the statement’s impact on arrangements made under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014:

“At this stage, those statements are not policy set in stone. Not policy yet. But these are backgrounders for possible future action. There’s a difference, isn’t it?”


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana:

American troops are not at risk in Mindanao:

September 14, Philippine House of Representatives, Manila; CNN Philippines

“(The) fears (of the President that) they might be subject to reprisals by the Muslim[s] is a little bit… (it might not happen because they are just in the camps).”

“Let us remember that these [soldiers] are also combatants, (they are not) civilians that are subject to kidnapping by the terrorists.”

“The bulk of their job is to manage their assets (there in) Zamboanga City. They have two systems providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to our troops in Mindanao.”


Mr. Conor Cronin is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS. Follow him on twitter @ConorCroninDC.


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