Continuing his profanity-laced verbal tirade against the American president, outspoken Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte told Barack Obama that he could “go to hell” on Tuesday, after claiming that the US had refused to sell the Philippines some weapons. Duterte added that it didn’t really matter, because he could just buy them from China and Russia anyway.
Duterte says that recent rocky relations with the Philippines’ long-time ally has him considering a change in relationship status, as he flirts with making suitors of America’s biggest geopolitical rivals.
“Respect is important,” he said in one of three speeches on 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.”
“If you don’t want to sell arms, I’ll go to Russia. I sent the generals to Russia and Russia said ‘do not worry, we have everything you need, we’ll give it to you,'” he continued. “And as for China, they said ‘just come over and sign and everything will be delivered.’
Duterte is angry that the US has failed to lend a hand in his aggressive crackdown on his country’s illegal drug trade. Since he took office, thousands of suspected drug dealers and users have been killed. Last week, Duterte made international headlines again by comparing himself to Hitler in this effort, a remark he later apologized for. Rather than provide support for the crackdown, both the US and the European Union have condemned Duterte’s methods as a violation of human rights, angering the Philippine leader.
“Instead of helping us, the first to hit was the State Department. So you can go to hell, Mr Obama, you can go to hell,” Duterte said at another speech on Tuesday. “EU, better choose purgatory. Hell is full already. Why should I be afraid of you?”
On Sunday, Duterte said that he had complained to both China and Russia about Washington’s unhelpfulness and had received a sympathetic ear from both governments. He added that he would review an agreement signed in 2014 that allowed for an increased presence of US forces in the Philippines and permitted US troops some access to Philippine military bases.
In the face of this barrage of insults, the United States has chosen to simply to keep its head down and do its best to ignore Duterte’s inflammatory remarks. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest contrasted Duterte telling Obama to “go to hell” with the “warm relationship” between the two nations.
According to the Financial Times, Washington doesn’t believe that the Philippines will be able to orchestrate any big deals with China. “The one thing that China wants is the one thing Duterte cannot give — to walk back the tribunal ruling,” says Evan Medeiros, former White House Asia director in the Obama administration, referring to the Philippines’ sweeping victory over China at The Hague in July when an international tribunal ruled against Beijing’s claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea, in a case brought by the previous Philippine government.
Inside his own country, the deadly war on drugs doesn’t seem to be hurting Duterte’s favorability. In a recent opinion poll of 1,200 Filipinos, Duterte’s performance in his first 90 days was rated as “very good” with only 11% of those surveyed responding that they were dissatisfied with his performance. However, if Duterte is seen giving in to China on the key issue of South China Sea sovereignty, then the populist leader can likely expect a popular backlash from his former supporters.
While this is all going on, US and Philippine marines and sailors are participating in joint military exercises. According to Duterte, this will be the last time that that happens.