Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte made clear last week that he’d rather not travel halfway around the world to attend a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. This year the annual meeting takes place Nov. 19-20 in Lima, Peru. Duterte said he dislikes long-haul flights.
He’s been persuaded to attend, yet instead of flying through Los Angeles—a typical transit point between Manila and Peru, and one that will be used by Filipino journalists covering the event—he’ll make New Zealand his pit stop, according to his administration. That could add about six hours to his flying time, depending on a few variables.
Duterte has shown paranoia about traveling to the US, after railing against the nation for months. On Oct. 20, while on a state visit to China, he announced his “separation from the United States.” Duterte also said on Oct. 19 that he was once denied a visa while trying to enter the US, and questioned why Americans can easily enter the Philippines while his countrymen are often denied visas.
Elaborating back in the Philippines on the night of Oct. 21, he said: “Better be careful with the word, we ‘separate’ or ‘sever’ our diplomatic relations [with the US]. The second one is not feasible. Why? The Filipinos and the United States will kill me. That is why I am not going there. Not in this lifetime.”
He said he would even go as far as finding a way to not fly through the US to attend the APEC summit in Peru.
Leo Lim-Herrera, an official in the Philippines foreign affairs department, said “technical matters, like the capacity of the plane and fuel storage,” were the reasons Duterte was taking the unusual route, but it still raised suspicions in the Philippines.
Readers’ comments below an article on the website of the Philippine newspaper the Inquirer included:
“Perhaps rumors are true he will be arrested by the state dept for crimes against humanity if he steps on US soil….”
“He can be arrested for human rights…”
US president Barack Obama and others have strongly condemned the Philippine leader’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands of suspected drug criminals gunned down by self-appointed vigilante squads, and “crimes against humanity” is punishable under international law. But there’s no indication the US would arrest Duterte during a layover. US senator Ben Cardin has said he would oppose the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines’ national police, citing human rights concerns.
Duterte has frequently unleashed invective-laced tirades against the US, EU, UN, rights activists, and others who have expressed concerns over human rights violations in the war on drugs. He has admitted that children and innocent people have been killed in the campaign, but has called them “collateral damage,” and he said last month, “If it involves human rights, I don’t give a shit.”
On Nov. 14 he said that if ISIL sets up in the Philippines, he would forego human rights obligations to keep the public safe. And last week he warned lawmakers he “might be forced” to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, a safeguard against warrantless arrests, to enforce the war on drugs.