Firebrand Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” Tuesday, as he threatened to end his nation’s decades-old alliance with the United States in favour of China and Russia.
The fresh tirade came as the Philippines and the United States launched annual war games that Duterte had already warned may be the last of his presidency, in response to US criticism of his deadly war on crime.
“I have lost my respect for America,” Duterte said as he complained at length in two speeches about calls by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to respect human rights.
“Mr Obama, you can go to hell.”
Duterte also branded Americans “hypocrites” and warned there may come a time when he would completely break the two nations’ alliance, which includes a mutual defence pact.
“Eventually I might in my term, break up with America. I would rather go to Russia or to China. Even if we do not agree with their ideology, they have respect for the people. Respect is important,” he said.
Duterte, who took office on June 30, has said the top priority of his six-year term is eradicating illegal drugs in society, and he is “happy to slaughter” three million addicts to achieve his goal.
More than 3,000 people have died in the crime war so far, according to official figures, with rights groups warning of vigilante death squads carrying out mass murder and a general breakdown in the rule of law.
Although he uses fierce rhetoric, Duterte insists he is not breaking any laws, that police are killing only in self defence and many of the other deaths are as a result of gang wars.
– ‘The right way’ –
Nevertheless, a UN rights envoy has warned Duterte may be breaking international law with incitements to kill.
Obama also last month urged Duterte at a regional summit in Laos to respect the rule of law and carry out his drug war “the right way”.
A few days earlier, Duterte had branded Obama a “son of a whore” after being told the US president would raise the rights concerns at the summit.
Military ties between the Philippines and the United States had grown stronger in recent years partly in response to China’s expanding presence in the strategically vital South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas that are capable of hosting military bases.
To counter China, the Philippines’ previous president, Benigno Aquino, sought to draw the United States closer.
This included the signing of a new defence pact that allowed thousands more US soldiers to rotate through the Philippines and for American military hardware to be stationed on Filipino bases.
Aquino also launched international legal action that in July saw a UN-backed tribunal declare China’s vast claims in the sea illegal.
However Duterte has reversed course, warning he wants to scrap the new pact and that he will not allow any more joint patrols with the United States in the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, Duterte told Filipinos they could not count on the United States, the Philippines’ former colonial ruler.
“Don’t believe in those Americans. they will not fight to die for us,” he said.
About 2,000 American and Filipino troops are taking part in the eight-day war games, which will be held partly in waters near the disputed areas of the South China Sea.
In speeches to launch the exercises in Manila, military chiefs from both sides acted as if relations were normal.
“I am confident that we will continue to build our partnership and capabilities together,” the 3rd US Marine Expeditionary Force deputy commander, Brigadier General John Jansen, said at the opening ceremony.
However a statement released by the US Embassy in Manila, hinted at the tensions.
“We will continue to honour our alliance commitments, and we expect the Philippines to do the same,” embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said in the statement.