Philippine President Duterte tells Obama to ‘go to hell’

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte had harsh words for President Obama after he said the United States refused to sell some weapons to his country. “Mr. Obama, you can go to hell.” (Reuters)

If it’s Tuesday, Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, must be swearing at President Obama.

In a profanity-laced speech in Manila, Duterte lashed out once again at the U.S. for criticizing his self-proclaimed “drug war,” saying  Obama can “go to hell.”

The European Union, he added, “better choose purgatory, hell is filled up.”

Duterte swept to power with a promise to “kill all” the criminals in the Philippines. Since he took power in July, more than 3,000 Filipinos have  been killed, either shot  in police raids or gunned down by assassins, often after being named by police.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte “profoundly and deeply” apologized to the Jewish community on Oct. 2 after earlier references to the Holocaust and likening himself to Adolf Hitler. (Reuters)

The wave of extrajudicial violence has drawn criticism at home and abroad, prompting angry retorts from Duterte. When  Obama raised the issue at an international summit last month, Duterte castigated him, using a slang term that translates as “son of a whore.”

But what’s happening in the Philippines now is about much more than Duterte’s flair for foul language and crass remarks.

Tuesday’s comments on the U.S. and E.U.  come amid a string of pronouncements that have the potential to shift the balance of power in East and Southeast Asia.

The Philippines, a former U.S. colony, has for decades had close military ties to the United States. As China presses its claims in the South China Sea, the U.S. has sought to deepen those ties.

Duterte seems to have different plans — or wants us all to think so.

Over the past few weeks, Duterte has made near-daily comments about his disdain for the U.S. and his plans to cozy up to Russia and China.

On Sunday, Duterte said he had complained about the U.S. to Russia and China, whom he described as highly sympathetic. He also vowed to review a new U.S.-Philippine agreement that would see more U.S. forces in the Philippines.

Last week, Duterte promised  to cancel the U.S.-Philippine military exercises after next year. He’s also called for an end to joint patrols in the South China Sea and for the ouster of U.S. Special Operations forces from southern Mindanao.

When he  advised Obama where to go Tuesday, he was talking about the same set of issues.

“Although it may sound s— to you, it is my sacred duty to keep the integrity of this republic and the people healthy,” Duterte said in his second of two televised speeches  Tuesday.

“If you don’t want to sell arms, I’ll go to Russia. I sent the generals to Russia and Russia said ‘do not worry, we have everything you need, we’ll give it to you.’

“And as for China, they said, ‘Just come over and sign and everything will be delivered.’ “

It is not clear  yet whether his comments are strongman posturing or real policy.

Some analysts see his bluster as a campaign to butter up the Chinese; if that is his strategy, China seems to like it.

“Ever since President Duterte took office, China and Philippines have been engaging in friendly interactions, which have yielded a series of positive results,” said Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese ambassador to Manila, in a recent speech.

“The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations.”

Sounds heavenly.

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