By Azer N. Parrocha
MANILA, Sept. 6 (PNA) — Senators on Tuesday had varied reactions to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s offensive remarks on US President Barack Obama before their scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
The White House on Tuesday cancelled the scheduled meeting between the two heads of state after Duterte insulted Obama for raising concerns on extrajudicial killings linked to the Philippine President’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
In a press conference before leaving for Laos, Duterte mentioned that the US President should not question his way of dealing with the country’s problems.
“You must be respectful. Do not throw away questions and statements. P*****-i**, mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na iyan. Huwag mo akong ganunin (Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum. Don’t do that to me),” Duterte said.
Duterte and Obama were supposed to meet in Laos at the ASEAN Summit on September 6 and 7.
Two senators, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima, both expressed concern that Duterte’s remarks might affect Philippine and US relations.
Trillanes, in a text message, said it will have damaging effects on the relations between the Philippines and its longtime ally, the US.
“President Duterte’s vulgar language directed against President Obama is wrong on so many levels and will definitely have detrimental effects on our diplomatic relationship and alliance with the US,” Trillanes said.
He pointed out that President Duterte should not expect to “get away” with everything he says or does.
“You don’t just slap the face of the most powerful country in the world and expect to get away with it. It was uncalled for and now our country’s security sector would be weakened because of it,” he added.
De Lima urged the President to be two times more careful in making such statements as his offensive remarks could have “repercussions”.
“It could have repercussions now or in the near future,” de Lima said.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros, in an interview, said she regrets the comments, hoping that there would be another chance for the two heads of state to meet.
“Sayang talaga. Maganda sanang pagkakataon na pag-usapan nila ang mga issues, principles and common concerns in the international community kahit itinataguyod pa rin natin ang independence (It’s too bad. It would have been a good opportunity for them to discuss issues, principles and common concerns in the international community while maintaining their respective independence),” Hontiveros said.
“Umaasa ako na magkaroon sila ng ibang pagkakatoon sa future (I am hoping that there would be another chance for them to meet in the future),” she added.
Hontiveros said if there were at all effects on both countries’ diplomatic relations, it could still be mended in the next six years under Duterte’s term.
She declined to give Duterte unsolicited advice but urged him to use appropriate language when dealing with foreign leaders.
“I have no unsolicited advice to the President but to avoid similar missed opportunity in meets, a lot has to do with complete staff work of both heads of state,” Hontiveros said.
“We have lots of Filipinos in the executive to prepare for this. And each head of state knows what’s at stake. I am confident that in the next opportunities, they will take advantage of that,” she added.
Relations still strong
Five senators — Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Richard “Dick” Gordon, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon and Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III — all allayed fears that relations between the Philippines and US would change.
Lacson said that despite Duterte’s remarks, he does not see any big change in the relations between the Philippines and the US.
“I don’t see any drastic change in the long-standing friendly relations between the Philippines and the United States. We are one of the United States’ strongest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, and it will stay that way,” Lacson said.
Alliances, unlike presidents, stand the test of time, he said.
“Presidents come after elections and go after their terms end, while alliances between countries remain strong, especially between the United States and the Philippines,” he added.
He also expressed hope that the President would soon realise that diplomacy is always part of the country’s foreign policy.
“Being the country’s leader, he shapes that policy,” he said.
Recto for his part said that an “unprovoked tirade” will not drain the goodwill between Filipinos and Americans.
“Built on a shared past and bound by a common vision, US-Philippine relations are strong enough that it cannot be weakened or wrecked by a wayward quote,” Recto said.
He said that now would be a good time to remind Duterte and other leaders who represent the country to “clearly articulate” the country’s aspirations by being “polite, courteous and respectful”.
Drilon described the cancelled meeting as “starting off on the wrong foot” on the part of Duterte.
“It is unfortunate that such meeting did not push through because of unnecessary rhetoric over human rights issues,” Drilon said.
Drilon meanwhile urged Duterte to remember that foreign policy is shaped in accordance with our national interest and that “unfriendly rhetoric and undiplomatic statements” will not do the Philippines any good.
He expressed hope that Philippine government would work to maintain relations with the US, which he added, remained strong.
“There is no doubt that the relations between the Philippines and the United States remain strong, and continue to be anchored on mutual respect and cooperation,” Drilon said.
“I am hopeful that the long-standing relationship between the two nations will remain to endure and that both leaders will have other opportunities of meeting again under a more comfortable and friendly circumstances,” he added.
Gordon agreed that Duterte’s remarks would not hurt relations between both countries but noted that the President should “adjust” the way he speaks.
In turn, the international community should adjust to his ways, he added.
He said foreigners should not focus on the form of the President’s words but on what he is actually trying to say.
Pimentel said that Duterte was not really cursing Obama or any individual in particular, it was just the way he spoke.
He however stressed the importance of reaching out to the international community and making them “understand” the President’s personality.
He also said that Duterte’s remarks would not affect Philippine and US relations.