Obama’s response to Philippine President Duterte calling him a “son of a whore”: He’s a colornful guy”

See also

“Government by assassination: President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, and the crumbling of civilization,” The Trenchant Observer, September 14, 2016.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently said if Obama qustioned him on human rights at the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, or a regional summit to follow, he would tell him, “Son of a whore, I will swear at you in that forum.”

His words in Tagalog have beeb widely mistranslated as “son of a bitch”. The words he used were, according to the Daily Mirror,

‘Putang ina I will swear at you in that forum,’ he said, using the Tagalog phrase for ‘son of a bitch’ (sic).

–Valerie Edwards and Hannah Parry for Daily Mirror, and Associated Press, “Filipino President Duterte says he ‘regrets’ calling Obama ‘son of a bitch’ in a rare display of contrition, hours after POTUS canceled their meeting,” Daily Mail, September 6, 2016 (updated 9:59 EST).

“Putang ina” does not mean son of a bitch in Tagalog. It means “son of a whore”, as the Daily Mirror itself stated in the same story:

Duterte won elections in May and immediately promised a law-and-order crackdown on drugs.
‘These sons of w****s are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that, even if you’re a policeman, because I will really kill you,’ the president told an audience during a speech in the country’s capital, Manila.
Duterte made it clear he would pardon police if they were charged with human rights violations for carrying out his merciless orders.

The exprssion apparently comes from the Spanish “hijo de puta”. For many years, until 1898, the Phillipines were a colony of Spain. “Son of a bitch” does not convey the same animosity, and aggression, as “hijo de puta” or “putang ina”.

Obama’s response

Obama responded in his own speech later: “Clearly, he’s a colourful guy. I always want to make sure if I’m having a meeting that it’s productive and we’re getting something done.”

He added: “We recognize the significant burden that the drug trade plays not just in the Philippines but around the world, and fighting narco-trafficking is tough. But we will always assert the need to have due process and to engage in that fight against drugs in a way that’s consistent with basic international norms.”

–Mary Papenfuss, “White House cancels Philippines meeting hours after Duterte called Obama a ‘son of a b****’; Duterte’s a ‘colourful guy’ but ‘I want a productive meeting,’ said Obama of the decision to cancel, Businss Insider, September 6, 2016 (01:34 BST).

The United Nations and Duterte’s call for the assassination and extrajudicial execution of drug dealers

See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Geneva), “UN experts urge the Philippines to stop unlawful killings of people suspected of drug-related offences,” August 18, 2016

The two experts included Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras. Ms Callamard stated,

We call on the Philippines authorities to adopt with immediate effect the necessary measures to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions,” said the new UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard.

“Claims to fight illicit drug trade do not absolve the Government from its international legal obligations and do not shield State actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings,” Ms. Callamard stressed. “The State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not.

The Special Rapporteurs explained further,

During his election campaign and first days in office, Mr. Duterte repeatedly urged law enforcement agencies and the public to kill people suspected of trafficking drugs who don’t surrender, as well as people who use drugs. The President was also reported as promising impunity for such killings and bounties for those who turn in drug dealers ‘dead or alive’.

“Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law. It is effectively a license to kill,” the UN expert on summary executions warned. “Intentional lethal use of force is only allowed when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life and should not be used for common policing objectives,” she said.

The Special Rapporteurs welcomed recent reports suggesting that President Duterte is now publicly condemning vigilante justice, and called on all authorities to take a clear and public stance against it. “However,” they underscored, “it is not enough.”

“Incentives to violence such as bounties or the promise of impunity also seriously contravene the rule of law and must end,” the experts said. “All allegations of killings and extrajudicial executions must be promptly and thoroughly investigated. Perpetrators and instigators must be sanctioned without exception.”

By August 31, 2016, the number of killed in Duterte’s anti- drug campaign apparently exceeded 2,400.

See Mohsin Ali and Ted Regencia, “Philippines: Death toll in Duterte’s war on drugs; Police say 2,446 people killed in the anti-drug war during the first two months of the president’s new administration, Al Jazeera English, September 1, 2016 (22:55 GMT).

Bottom Line

Duterte’s essential message was the following:

Don’t raise the issue of extrajudicial executions or human rights violations in our meeting, or I will swear at you in that forum, you son of a whore.

No one respects the president of the United States any more. Not Putin. Not Xi Jingpeng. And not even Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.