OUTSPOKEN Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed regret for calling U.S. President Barack Obama “son of a bitch”, a remark that led to the cancellation of what was to be the two leaders’ first meeting.
In a statement read out Tuesday by his spokesman, Duterte said his “strong comments” to certain questions by a reporter “elicited concern and distress”, adding that “we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president”.
Duterte made the remarks Monday before flying to Laos, where he is attending a regional summit. He had been scheduled to meet with Obama separately, but that meeting has now been postponed.
According to the Associated Press, even though Duterte’s latest comment does not amount to an apology, the expression of regret is a rare instance when the tough-talking former mayor has expressed contrition for his remarks that often slide into profanity.
“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.
The flap over Duterte’s remarks started when a reporter asked him how he intended to explain the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers to Obama.
In his response, the intrepid leader reportedly warned the U.S. president against raising the issue of human rights with him when the two met, saying: “Son of a bitch, I will swear at you.”
More than 2,000 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since Duterte launched a war on drugs after taking office on June 30.
“The Philippines is not a vassal state. We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States… I do not respond to anybody but to the people of the Republic of the Philippines. Who is he?” he was quoted as saying in The Philippine Star.
“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,” he added.
In January this year, the firebrand mayor called the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, a “son of a bitch” during his visit to the country, accusing the latter’s entourage during their visit to the Philippines of being the cause of massive traffic jams.
In his apology later, Duterte said he intended to visit the pope in the Vatican city to ask for forgiveness. He later retracted the intention, opting to send a letter to the religious leader instead.
Last month the U.S. State Department summoned the Philippines’ envoy asking him to clarify insulting and “inappropriate” comments Duterte made against U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
Duterte had reportedly called Goldberg out for being “gay” and a “son of a bitch” after the envoy criticised Duterte’s administration over the war on drugs.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press