VIENTIANE—Contrary to the claim of Palace spin doctors, President Rodrigo Duterte, US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary general Ban Kimoon were poles apart at the summit gala dinner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit Wednesday night.
Instead, Duterte, whom the Palace billed as the summit “rock star,” found himself seated beside Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Indonesian President Joko Widodo while Obama was at the other end of the table.
Asked what they learned from the President’s first foreign trip as the country’s head of state, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said that aside from learning how to answer questions from the foreign press, they discovered how popular Duterte was, not only in the Philippines.
“We also learned that President Duterte is a rock star not only in our country but also in other countries like Laos, Japan and how the other foreign ministers and delegates have scrambled to get a selfie with our President. You have a President of the Republic who can stand and deliver,” he said.
Andanar could not say, however, who were taking selfies with the President, saying only that they were foreigners.
Duterte recently made international headlines after calling US President Barack Obamaa “son of a whore,” which caused the American side to call of their scheduled one-on-one meeting.
President Rodrigo Duterte has since expressed regret for his obscenity-laden rant against the man whom he called the “most powerful man in the world,” but senior Palace officials insisted the President was once again “misinterpreted.”
Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted to being eager to meet the new Philippine President.
Abe admitted that he was excited to meet Duterte, saying that the President is quite famous in Japan.
“Mr. President is quite a famous figure also in Japan and I’m very excited to see you in person,” Abe said upon shaking hands with Duterte.
After receiving the chairmanship of the Asean, Duterte will be proceeding to Jakarta for a working visit.
The Philippines’ chairmanship of Asean, which will mark 50 years, begins Jan. 1, 2017.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the economy would not be affected by the flap between Duterte and Obama, even as stocks continued to plummet.
“This is seen only as a temporary issue that won’t affect our relationship,” Lopez said.
While Duterte proved this week he can apologize almost as fast as he can offend, his unpredictability risks unsettling global leaders and investors alike.
Duterte’s latest diplomatic dust-up made him look unsteady, said Li Jinming, professor of international relations at the Research School of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University in China’s Fujian province.
“It could hardly be perceived as an opportunity because Duterte often talks incoherently and is temperamentally unstable. He could say one thing today and utter the entire opposite tomorrow,” he said.
That tough-talking style has boosted Duterte’s popularity at home as he aggressively takes on drug dealers, criminals and insurgents in a nation where security is often perilous. Yet for governments and companies that prize stability, the rhetoric may prompt them to pull aid or investment at a time when the Philippines is shedding its reputation as the “Sick Man of Asia.”
For now, the risk is mainly over the long term, said Joey Cuyegkeng, a senior economist at ING Groep NV in Manila. Growth prospects are favorable, inflation is low and manufacturing activity is increasing.
Yet that could all change: “Extrajudicial killings and statements that may antagonize long-time allies” have “elicited growing concerns also from investors,” Cuyegkeng said. “We believe that such political developments and concerns if unchecked would have a more profound impact on markets and the economy.”
The Philippine Stock Exchange Index fell as much as 1.3 percent, poised for its lowest close since June. Duterte’s comments contributed to concerns over US interest rates, elevated valuations and overseas fund withdrawals, according to Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc., the largest Philippine bank.
“The latest incident raises concerns that President Duterte’s unpredictable behavior in politics would be disruptive and could eventually spill into economics and business,” Ravelas said.
Central bank Governor Amando Tetangco on Tuesday urged Duterte’s administration to stay on message.
“What we would need is to explain better what the objectives of the policies of government are” to avoid misunderstandings “that can lead to a different picture of what the government is trying to do,” he said.
The latest kerfuffle began on Monday as Duterte spoke to reporters before heading to a regional summit in Laos. He used an obscenity to describe Obama and said if the US president questioned him over his drugs war “I will curse you in that forum.”
Obama then decided to cancel a one-on-one meeting with Duterte. Hours later, the Philippine leader sought to do damage control, saying in a statement that he regretted that his comments “came across as a personal attack.” The White House on Tuesday night left the door open for the possibility of a less formal meeting between Obama and Duterte at the gathering, which runs through Thursday. With AFP