VIENTIANE – Despite the negative publicity generated by his brutal war on drugs and his gutter language, President Duterte has emerged as a “rock star” and a “rising influential leader” in the region, his spokespersons said yesterday. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte drew warm reception from delegates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit here, as they were able to identify with him. “In spite of the accompanying noise, he seems to be able to strike a resonant chord. What usually comes across is his authenticity,” Abella said in a press conference here.
“In spite of the colorful language he uses, the Asians in the region seem to be able to get him and there seems to be empathy towards him,” he added. “They defer to him. If you lead in this matter, we will cooperate.” When reminded that warmth and empathy are common among Asians, Abella replied: “The tone of conversation between the nations seems to indicate that they recognize his influence, they recognize his political will, they recognize his firmness, his resolve to, for example, address the flow of illegal drugs.” Abella cited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s comment that Duterte is “quite famous” in Japan. He said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had also recognized the challenges confronting the Philippines with regard to illegal drugs. Presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar claimed that Duterte has gained popularity not only in the Philippines but also in the region.
“We learned that President Duterte is a rock star not only in our country but also in countries like Laos and Japan and how other foreign ministers and delegates have scrambled to get a selfie with our President,” Andanar said. “We have a President of a republic who can stand and deliver.” Duterte’s participation in this year’s ASEAN meet – his first international engagement as president – was eclipsed by his tiff with US President Barack Obama, whom he accused of meddling with his war on drugs. The US earned Duterte’s ire when White House officials announced that Obama would raise human rights issues during his meeting with the Philippine president, which was supposed to be held last Tuesday.
Washington has expressed concern over the recent spate of killings of suspected drug offenders. The killings were widely seen as offshoot of Duterte’s campaign promise of eliminating the drug problem at all cost. The President considered the US voicing its concern as an intrusion into the Philippines’ internal affairs. “I do not have any master except the Filipino people. Nobody but nobody. You (Obama) must be respectful. Do not throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore. I will swear at you in that forum,” Duterte said before leaving for Laos last Monday. The scheduled bilateral meeting was cancelled by the White House hours after Duterte issued the inflammatory statements. Duterte would later express regret that his comments were seen as a personal attack against Obama. Philippine officials said the bilateral meeting has been moved to a later date but could not say when.