MANILLA – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s vitriol against the United States took another caustic turn Tuesday, when he threatened to “break up” with the US and said President Barack Obama can “go to hell.”
Duterte’s latest remarks came just as the US and Philippines started joint military exercises — perhaps for the last time.
The war drills began Tuesday in Manila and will last until October 12. Last week, Duterte said this round of joint drills with the US would be the last.
“I serve notice to you now that this will be the last joint military exercise with US,” Duterte said.
Durterte’s verbal tirade against the US heated up after widespread criticism of his anti-drug campaign.
Thousands of suspected drug dealers and users have died during Duterte’s aggressive crackdown on the illegal drug trade.
Some were killed during shootouts with local police when suspects allegedly resisted arrest. Others died in nightly vigilante-style killings, where bodies are left on the streets with cardboard signs describing their alleged drug-related crimes.
US officials have slammed Duterte, especially after he compared himself to Hitler. Durterte later apologized for the remarks.
On Tuesday, Duterte said he’s willing to cut ties with the US in favor of Russia and China.
“Respect is important,” he said in one of three speeches Tuesday. “If this is what happens now, I will be reconfiguring my foreign policy. Eventually I might, in my time, I will break up with America. I’d rather go to Russia and to China.”
Duterte also had harsh words for the US President and the European Union: “Mr. Obama, you can go to hell. … The EU better choose purgatory.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Duterte’s recent comments, such as telling Obama to “go to hell,” contradicted the “warm relationship” between the two countries.
He cited US recovery efforts after natural disasters as an example of the close ties between the two nations. Earnest also said the US has not received any request from the Philippines to change their bilateral relationship.
But the White House spokesman insisted the US will “not hesitate” to raise concerns about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, which he said were “entirely inconsistent” with universal values of human rights.
“We won’t be silent in raising our significant concerns about these reports,” Earnest said.
Duterte won the presidency by a landslide this year on a platform of ending drug proliferation, despite having been accused of running the Davao Death Squad when he was mayor of Davao.
On Tuesday, Duterte said he won’t stop his anti-drug crackdown “until the last pusher is taken out of the street.”
“It will be unrelenting,” the President said.
Duterte also defended his threats to kill criminals, saying he used similar language when he was mayor of Davao.
“If you will not leave my city, I will kill you,” he reminisced.
“There is no law at all which says I cannot threaten criminals as mayor or even as president.”
Under Duterte’s presidency, police have made thousands of arrests and have implemented a controversial “knock and plead” policy of visiting suspected drug users in their homes and inviting them to register as users with community officials.
Duterte has also told police they can kill drug dealers if they fight back.
In his first few months in office, Duterte has made shocking remarks about the US, a longtime ally of the Philippines.
He’s called both Obama and the US ambassador to the Philippines a “son of a bitch.”
American investors have already expressed concern over drug-related killings under the Duterte administration.
“The increased number of killings during the heightened anti-drug campaign is harming the country’s image, as portrayed by international media, and some investors are now asking whether this campaign reduces the rule of law,” the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. said last month.
But US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week that the decades-old alliance with the Philippines was “ironclad.”
He said US-Philippines cooperation “has served the interests of our nations for many years now” and added that he had good discussions about “ongoing alliance operations” with his counterpart from the Philippines.