MANILA, Philippines – In a rare show of restraint, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte held his tongue on the proposal of American senators to ban from the United States Filipino officials involved in the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima.
"I have the best adjective for that but at this time, I will just...hilaw pa 'yan eh, at best hilaw pa 'yan (it's still unripe). When it becomes ripe, then I will say my piece," Duterte said on Tuesday, October 1.
He was holding a press conference before departing for Russia, where he will be making a 5-day official visit.
The proposal, put forward by US Senators Richard Durbin (Illinois) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont), has been approved by the US Senate appropriations committee.
Asked if he considers the move a form of "interference" into Philippine domestic affairs, Duterte said, "Hindi naman 'yun (No)."
He said because the proposal is yet to be adopted by the Senate in a plenary session and involves only a committee so far, he does not consider it an act of the Senate.
"I do not deal individually with the congressmen or senators there. It is not an act of state. It does not carry the mandate of the entire Senate," the Philippine leader said.
Different from Panelo's take: Duterte's position contrasts sharply with the position of his own spokesman.
Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, in a long statement, blasted the US senators and accused them of "brazen" intrusion into Philippine sovereignty.
"The Palace considers such undertaking as a brazen attempt to intrude into our country's domestic legal processes," he had said in a September 27 statement.
"It is an outright disrespect to our people's clamor for law and order. It treats our country as an inferior state unqualified to run its own affairs. All sensible Filipinos, regardless of their political or social association, should feel affronted and disrespected by this insulting and offensive act," Panelo fumed.
Meanwhile, Duterte, on Tuesday, said, "If there is one, or two, or 3 (lawmakers) who say these things exist in the Philippines, let them."
Only when the US Senate approves the travel ban would he "talk" to US President Donald Trump or the US State Department.
In contrast to his restraint with the two US senators, Duterte in the past has not shied from insulting, even threatening, individual foreign officials and personalities who have criticized his policies. (READ: The Duterte Insult List)
But at the start of his Tuesday press conference, he said cryptically that the principle of non-interference "has been forgotten by some idiots in some parts of the world." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.