Rodrigo Duterte has shown he’s unafraid of lashing out at world leaders in his speeches. But he does fear awkward moments, apparently.
The Philippine president admitted that he pretended to be sick during parts of an international conference last month just to avoid an awkward encounter with Barack Obama, who has criticized Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. In a speech at a Manila business forum on Dec. 12, Duterte retracted a previous statement in which blamed a stomach ache and jet lag for his absence at a gala dinner and group photo of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit Lima, Peru.
“I attended the meetings, actually. Do not believe those idiots out there. But you know, Obama was there, and because we had an exchange of words, I was just trying to avoid an awkward situation.”
Duterte’s absence at the events—he stayed in his hotel instead—sparked criticism in the Philippines press. Former president Fidel Ramos joined in, commenting that, “As president, it is his duty to be there at all times, even when he does not feel well.”
Then again, Duterte’s approach to international relations has hardly been conventional. He once cursed Obama during a speech and announced that he would cut military and economic ties with the US, a longtime ally. He also threatened to leave the United Nations after the organization criticized his war on drugs, which has encouraged vigilante killings in the streets and claimed innocent victims.
But Duterte has made alliances in his own way. On Dec. 11 he said that China has provided firearms for the Philippine military, via a grant payable in 25 years. He also said that Donald Trump praised his war on drugs when Duterte called to congratulate the US president-elect on his victory.
This week Duterte is scheduled to meet the top leaders of Cambodia and Singapore during visits to those nations. As he hasn’t verbally abused any of them in his speeches, he’s unlikely to skip any dinners.