To believe, or not to believe, the Philippine president?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte frequently makes controversial comments that he or his aides later seek to clarify or quash completely.

Here are some of Duterte’s remarks and subsequent clarifications that often leave journalists and the public unclear on his actual position:

– Journalists at fault –

The quote:
Just before taking office, Duterte said in June that journalists could be murdered if they were corrupt.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

The explanation:
After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the comments, Duterte’s then spokesman, Salvador Panelo, released a statement blaming the controversy on “incorrect news reports”.

“The president-elect has not endorsed — cannot — and will never endorse extrajudicial killings, they being contrary to law.”

“He does not condone the killing of journalists nor any citizen for that matter, regardless of its purpose.”

– Death threat –

The quote:
Duterte threatened in November to kill human rights activists because of their criticism of his crime crackdown that has seen police and vigilantes kill thousands of people:

“Human rights (defenders) say that I kill. I said: ‘Okay, let us stop and let them (criminals) multiply. So when harvest time comes, here will be more who will die.’ I will include you in that because you let them multiply.”

The explanation:
Presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said human rights activists should not fear being killed.

“The president did not mean he would do that. It was just frustration he expressed through language. You know that is how the president talks.”

– Split from US –

The quote:
In an October address to Chinese businessmen in Beijing, Duterte signalled his intent to end the Philippines’ decades-long alliance with the United States in favour of closer ties with China and Russia:

“In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States.”

“America has lost. I’ve realigned myself in your (Chinese) ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

The explanation:
After Duterte said upon returning from China he would not sever US ties, spokesman Ernesto Abella urged journalists not to take the president literally:

“Let us not be too literal. You’ve seen the way he speaks, so in other words watch and understand the context of what he says, okay?”

“Maybe the most important thing here is to understand the words ‘cut ties.’ He said it’s a possibility that he could, that he might… so let’s try to use our creative imagination, okay.”

– Leaving the UN –

The quote:
In August, Duterte said the Philippines may withdraw from the United Nations in response to UN criticism of his war on crime.

“Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you are that disrespectful, son of a whore, then I will just leave you.”

The explanation:
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay quickly insisted the Philippines would remain with the United Nations:

“The president was tired, disappointed, hungry when he made the statement. We must give him leeway. He is also human.”

Later, when reporters asked him about the issue, Duterte replied: “Can’t you take a joke?”

– Respectful –

The quote:
Just before departing for a September summit in Laos that was meant to include a bilateral meeting with Barack Obama, Duterte used foul language in a warning to the US president against criticising the crime war.

“You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum.”

The explanation:
Duterte quickly released a statement expressing regret, after Obama cancelled their planned meeting:

“While the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US president.”

But, once out of Laos, Duterte said he had never insulted Obama.
“I never made that statement. You can check it out.”

– Chat with God –

The quote:
Duterte said in October he spoke with God, who ordered him to stop swearing:
“A voice said that you know: “If you don’t stop epithets, I will bring this plane down now.’ And I said: ‘Who is this?’ So, of course it’s God. Okay. So I promised God not to express slang, cuss words and everything.”

The explanation:
After the comments were widely reported in the Philippines and overseas, Duterte said he was only joking and ridiculed journalists for believing him:

“Those idiots fell for it. I may not be a (law) bar topnotcher but I am not that stupid.”/AFP News

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