U.S. President Barack Obama has cancelled what could have been his first bilateral talks with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos due what was considered as personal attack on the US leader by the maverick Filipino president. Malacanang later apologized for Mr. Duterte’s acidic rhetorics even as it thanked Mr. Obama for supporting the Philippines in the tug of war with China over the West Philippine Sea and stressing that the US-Philippines alliance was strong as ever.
Former Philippine Ambassador to Washington Albert del Rosario and several leaders put Mr. Duterte to task for what they said as careless statements that resulted to the cancellation of the talks and thus the opportunities to voice out concerns on the sea disputes with China, campaign against drugs and terrorism, and the strengthening of military and defense relationship as well as trade and commerce, among others.
Others, however, understood where Mr. Duterte is coming from. The Philippine leader is barely three months in office and has yet to polish his speech and acts to be more diplomatic in the eyes of the world. Others believed that Duterte’s statements were totally blown out of proportion by the local and international media. In the United States, an independent group dissected an accurate transcript of President Duterte’s Q&A with Reuters correspondent Jerome Morales and explained what Duterte said point by point. Fil-Am writer Nizza Gueco, admittedly not a Duterte fan, for one said that the President was concerned more about the implications of soured US-Philippine relations. The statements clearly indicates that the President addressed the particular reporter who asked an offensive and out-of-line question despite Mr. Duterte’s plea that questions be limited to his ASEAN and working trips overseas, according to the group.
Foul or not, for sure, there will be another forum for Mr. Obama and Mr. Duterte to clear things up. Filipino reporters covering the event in Laos claim that the two may yet hold an informal talk when the American leader meets the leaders of ASEAN in a dialogue. This was confirmed by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes who said the US leader will have an opportunity to interact with Mr. Duterte as with all leaders. So goodluck to Mr. Obama, Mr. Duterte, the ASEAN leaders and other delegates to various summits taking place in Laos.