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Duterte veers off speech, launches tirade on US killings in front of Obama

In what attendees described as a "fiery address," President Rodrigo Duterte veered off his prepared speech on Thursday at a meeting of the 18-nation East Asia group including United States President Barack Obama to launch a tirade on US military killings in the Philippines.

This was according to three diplomats who were in the room who spoke to Agence France-Presse at the event in Vientiane, Laos.

"The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the president said: 'This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights,'" an Indonesian delegate said. The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946.

The delegate described the atmosphere in the room as "quiet and shocked."

Another diplomat described the speech as "normal Duterte."

Describing Duterte's impromptu remarks as a "passionate intervention," the Department of Foreign Affairs said he "underscored the need to take a long historical view of human rights mindful of the atrocities against the ethnic people of Mindanao."

The DFA noted that the summit "is a forum for leaders to exchange views in an open, candid and frank manner."

"Now more than ever, Southeast Asia is faced with non traditional security issues including terrorism, drugs and human trafficking. The challenge for each country is to address these transnational threats in the context of their own socio-political situations and national history," read the DFA statement.

"Even as we continue to comply with our constitutional requirements in the observance of due process and respect for human rights, he is committed to combatting the spread of illegal drugs to ensure the security and well being of the next generation."

Innocents could be hurt

In response, Obama urged Duterte to conduct his crime war "the right way."

"We want to partner with the Philippines on the particular issue of narco-traffickers, which is a serious problem in the Philippines. It's a serious problem in the United States and around the world. On that narrow issue, we do want to make sure that the partnership we have is consistent with international norms and rule of law," he said.

"It is important from our perspective to make sure that we do it the right way, because the consequences of when you do it the wrong way is innocent people get hurt and you have a whole bunch of unintended consequences that don’t solve the problem."

Obama was quick to add that the rift with Duterte "has no impact on our broader relationship with the Philippine people, on the wide range of programs and security cooperation that we have with this treaty ally."

"My hope and expectation is, is that as President Duterte and his team get acclimated to his new position, that they're able to define and clarify what exactly they want to get done, how that fits in with the work that we're already doing with the Philippine government, and hopefully it will be on a strong footing by the time the next administration comes in," he added.


'You must be respectful'

Duterte set the tone for the week when, just before flying to Laos on Monday, he launched a barrage of insults at Obama in response to the US president's plans to question him over his war on drugs.

"You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum," Duterte told reporters shortly before flying to Laos.

At the press conference marking the end of his trip to Laos, Obama said he was unfazed by Duterte's slur.

"I don't take these comments personally because it seems as if this is a phrase he's used repeatedly including directed at the pope and others," Obama said.

He added that such choice words were "a habit, a way of speaking for him".

Duterte has branded Pope Francis, the US ambassador to Manila and the United Nations as "sons of whores".

However, Obama cancelled a meeting with Duterte scheduled for Tuesday because of the outburst.

They met on Wednesday night before a leaders' dinner in what Obama described as "not a long interaction".

Duterte has said the Philippines is in danger of becoming a "narco state", and eliminating drugs in society is the top priority of his administration. Duterte has also repeatedly promised to protect police from prosecution if they are charged over the deaths and insisted human rights cannot get in the way of his war.

On the day he was sworn into office, June 30, Duterte urged people living in a Manila slum to kill drug addicts in their community.

The United Nations special rapporteur on summary executions has warned incitement to kill is a crime under international law.

However Duterte has remained unfazed.

"More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets," Duterte said on Monday. —report from Agence France-Presse and GMA News