Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his bizarre retorts, has hit upon a new one, this time refusing to accept President Donald Trump's invitation to visit the United States, describing the country a 'lousy' nation.
"There will never be a time that I will go to America during my term, or even thereafter. So what makes that guy think I'll go to America? I've seen America and it's lousy," Duterte told reporters last Friday, in response to remarks made by Rep. Jim McGovern, who told the US Congress that he would protest if the Filipino leader accepted Trump's invitation.
Congressman McGovern serves as the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and has repeatedly maintained that human rights should not be treated as a partisan issue but a collective responsibility. He has championed for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the implementation of humane interrogation standards for all detainees in U.S. custody.
On global issues, he has raised his opposition to the prosecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, supported US assistance to the Nigerian government to find nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls, and advocated for human rights in Bahrain and Columbia. His recent 'Reciprocal Access to Tibet' bill sought free access to Tibet in China.
With police records showing 7,000 deaths in seven months from July 2016 to January 2017, human rights groups in the Philippines are up in arms over the issue of mass killings in the name of war against the drug peddlers. McGovern has succinctly put it as "No arrest. No warrant. No judge. No jury. Simply, murder."
The wording was strong enough to Filipino President Duterte, who shot back in his typical style, saying, "You're investigating me and the internal affairs of my country? I'm investigating you, and I will investigate you, and I will expose it to the world what you did to the Filipinos, especially to the Moro Filipino."
Duterte was referring to 1906 killings of more than 600 Moro people, most of them Muslims, in Mindanao by colonial American troops.
For Duterte, who never minced words, was in the news of late for using terms such as rape and killing, the word 'lousy' should not come as a surprise. But more than his words, the reaction inevitably opens up a new challenge to the US, especially its security perceptions in the region. Duterte is already seen as a strong supporter of China and Russia in case of any regional conflict.
Ever since its independence from the US in 1946, Manila remained a little brother to Washington DC and even when the Super Power vacated its last naval base in Subic Bay in 1992, their bilateral relations remained strong as ever until last year. But the recent remark by Duterte clearly indicates a huge shift in Manila's strategic alignments.