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Philippine President Grabs Headlines After Lashing Out At Obama


Now let's talk about the man who recently won election as president of the Philippines. That president has not exactly said he's sorry. But Rodrigo Duterte does say he regrets using a vulgar term for President Obama, or actually about Obama's mother. He used the phrase while warning President Obama not to complain about his violent war on drugs during an upcoming meeting.

Well, President Obama is not going to complain since he said he'd rather have constructive meetings. So he called off meeting the president of the Philippines at all. Michael Sullivan reports from the Philippines.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Here's President Obama yesterday at the end of his China trip, apparently reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte's diatribe in Davao in the southern Philippines.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I just heard about some of this, but I have seen some of those colorful statements in the past. And so clearly, he's a colorful guy.

SULLIVAN: Colorful in the supernova sense. Here's Duterte a few nights ago at an impromptu news conference in Davao in a message aimed, I think, at the nation's drug dealers, not the American president.


PRES RODRIGO DUTERTE: Do not [expletive] my country. Do not [expletive] with our children.

SULLIVAN: I was in Davao on Friday night trying to interview Duterte about the dispute with China in the South China Sea and of course about his war on drugs - mostly methamphetamines known here shabu - a war that's left more than 2,400 people killed in encounters with police and others in the two months Duterte's been president. He didn't give me an interview, but I got a lot of time at that news conference.

DUTERTE: Yes, sir. May I help you?

SULLIVAN: Do you care about the growing criticism, both at home and especially abroad, about the rising death toll in the war on drugs?

DUTERTE: No, not at all. Not a bit because I said there is a crisis.

SULLIVAN: And he was off, pounding his finger on the lectern to make his point.

DUTERTE: I am not worried about the international community because I am not the president of the international countries. I am the president of the Republic of the Philippines. And I must solve decisively this problem. No interference.

SULLIVAN: Duterte was just warming up - auditioning maybe - for his trip to Laos.

DUTERTE: Let us understand reality first before we go to the idea (unintelligible) of human rights and everything for after all America and Britain went into Iraq, killed so many people on one theory that there was weapons of mass destruction. Turned out there was none at all. How many women and children were killed along the way.

SULLIVAN: In the Philippines in the past few months, roughly 2,400 people have been killed, more than a thousand at the hands of police, and the other 1,400, Duterte says he doesn't care.

DUTERTE: Criminals kill criminals. That is not my worry. It is the extrajudicial killing of people, getting rid of the criminals by their own hands.

SULLIVAN: So no regrets, I asked, none? No, he said. And then he kept going for another 10 minutes or so, even after his handlers tried to get him into his helicopter as night fell. Duterte considers the drug epidemic an existential crisis for his country, and he's not backing off his efforts to win his drug war. Yesterday, before leaving for Laos, he said there would be many more dead before it's over. And here's the thing - he's doing exactly what he promised during the election campaign. He won with less than 40 percent of the votes cast. The most recent poll shows the man known as the punisher with a 91-percent approval rating. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Davao. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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