Top US official: Duterte words ‘hurtful, mystifying’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Top US official: Duterte words ‘hurtful, mystifying’
'We have found ourselves in a scratchy period,' US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel tells Filipino journalists

MANILA, Philippines – The top US diplomat for East Asia on Monday, October 24, urged “a respectful way to communicate” as he rejected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-US tirades as “hurtful and mystifying.” 

“Yes, it is hurtful and mystifying to be called names by a close friend, to be called names by the leader of a wonderful democracy that we respect and with whom we have shared so much history and culture,” US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said in a roundtable discussion with Filipino journalists on Monday.

“We have found ourselves in a scratchy period,” Russel added.

“The responsibility on both sides is to find a respectful way to communicate, to work forward in the best interests of our people, the best interests of the region, and the best interests of the world,” he said.

Russel is in the Philippines for a 4-day trip to clarify Philippine-US ties and to meet with Filipino youth leaders as well.

Russel’s visit comes after Duterte initially said he is cutting economic and military ties with the US – a statement that the President later clarified to mean it is not a “severance of ties.” 

(Watch the roundtable discussion in the video below)

‘Clarity about way forward’

Responding to a question by a journalist, Russel also addressed the flip-flopping statements coming from the Philippine government.

Russel said: “Diplomacy is not just a matter of looking up words in the dictionary. The issue is less clarity about the words, and it’s more clarity about the way forward.”

“The strategy, the policy priorities, and the attention of the president of the Philippines and of the Duterte government – that’s what matters. And that is part of an ongoing discussion,” he said.

The US official cited his meetings with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as examples of a “good faith effort” to understand each other. 

“There is an ongoing process to up our communication not through megaphones, not through insults, but through a sustained good faith effort to understand where the other guy is coming from and how we’re going to proceed together in solving problems and building something better,” Russel said.

Russel earlier told Yasay that Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric has “created consternation” in a number of countries. 

He also cautioned the Philippines against choosing between the US and China as Duterte moves away from Washington and closer to Beijing. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email