Philippine leader Duterte walks back comments about split with U.S.: 'I cannot do that'

"It's in the best interests of my country that I don't do that," the Philippine president said of cutting U.S. ties.

By Doug G. Ware
Philippine leader Duterte walks back comments about split with U.S.: 'I cannot do that'
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday walked back comments he made in Beijing a day earlier that his country would cut economic and military ties with the United States. Upon returning to the Pacific island nation, Duterte clarified his remarks and said he could not sever U.S. ties because it would inflict substantial harm. Photo courtesy Malacañang Photo Bureau

DAVAO, Philippines, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Some in the Philippine government -- including, apparently, President Rodrigo Duterte himself -- indicated Friday that burning their bridge with the United States might not be the best way to go.

After returning from a business meeting in China, Duterte seemed to walk back his surprising declaration that the U.S.-Philippine relationship is finished.


Friday, the leader clarified that his remarks meant that the Philippines' foreign policy doesn't always need to align with Washington's.

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"It's not severance of ties. Severance is to cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that," Duterte said. "Why? It's in the best interests of my country that I don't do that."

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Duterte's measured remarks on Friday were a stark departure from his rhetoric of the last few days, when he said, the United States "has lost it" and slammed the American way as "loud," "rowdy" and "not adjusted to civility." He also referred to President Barack Obama as a "son of a whore."

Duterte made the inflammatory remarks in Beijing Thursday -- announcing a "separation from the United States. Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also" -- in what many believe was an attention-grabbing show of support for China, regional Asian leaders and a potentially lucrative partner in Moscow.


Duterte surprised virtually everyone with his declaration and drew sharp criticism from the White House.

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Obama spokesman Josh Earnest described Duterte's comments as "offensive" and "confusing."

"We've seen too many troubling public statements from President Duterte over the last several months," he said. "And the frequency of that rhetoric has added an element of unnecessary uncertainty into our relationship that doesn't advance the interests of either country."

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Some in the Philippines, where the United States is generally viewed favorably, said Duterte's remarks were misunderstood. Others slammed them mercilessly.

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Former Philippine foreign minister Albert del Rosario called the shift in foreign policy a "national tragedy."

"Let me clarify. The president did not talk about separation," Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told CNN, noting that the comments were merely intended to shore up support in their corner of the world and improve Asian relations.

For example, Duterte left Beijing with $13.5 billion worth of new trade deals with China.

Also, the Presidential Palace in Manila cautioned the public not to try and "interpret" Duterte's words, and instead wait for clarification.


"There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president as we have to wait for guidelines," presidential spokeswoman Marie Banaag said.

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