Obama to Duterte: Fight crime, terror 'the right way'

VIENTIANE, Laos (UPDATED) – US President Barack Obama urged Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, September 8, to conduct his crime war "the right way," after 3,000 people were killed in the crackdown in just over two months.

Obama made the statement at a news conference at the end of his trip to Laos, where he joined other leaders, including Duterte, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related Summits. He was asked about his brief interaction with the tough-talking Philippine leader the night before.

On the US partnership with the Philippines in fighting narcotics trafficking as well as terrorists, Obama said: "We do want to make sure that the partnership we have is consistent with international norms and rule of law. So we're not going to back off our position that if we're working with a country, whether it's about anti-terrorism, whether it's on going after drug traffickers, and as much damage as they do, it is important from our perspective to make sure that we do it the right way."

"Because the consequences of when you do it the wrong way is innocent people get hurt, and you have a whole bunch of unintended consequences that don't solve the problem," he added.

The Philippine government has been criticized for the spate of killings in the country since Duterte assumed office on June 30. The number of deaths related to the war on drugs breached the 2,000-mark as the new government entered its third month in September.

'Just a habit'

Describing his interaction with Duterte, Obama said: "I did shake hands with President Duterte last night. It was not a long interaction, and I indicated to him that my team should be meeting with his and determine how to move forward the whole range of issues."

The two leaders were supposed to have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit but Duterte's tirades against Obama and the US – in a news conference in Manila before the Philippine leader boarded a flight to Laos – prompted the US side to cancel the meeting. The meeting was reset to a "later date" after Duterte expressed his regrets over his "strong comments."

Obama, who had described Duterte as a "colorful guy" when he was told about the slur against him while he was still in China for the G20 Summit, said on Thursday that using the "phrase" – a Filipino expletive – which he did not mention seems to be Duterte's habit.

"As I said, when I was asked about this in China, I don’t take these comments personally because it seems that this is a phrase he has used repeatedly, including directed to the Pope and others and so I think it seems to be just a, you know, a habit. A way of speaking for him," he said.

No impact on US-PH ties

Obama said the recent developments have no impact on the "broader" relations between the US and the Philippines.

"It has no impact on our broader relationship with the Philippine people, the wide range of programs and security cooperationwe have with this treaty ally, and certainly has no impact on how we interpret our obligations to continue to build on the long-standing alliance that we have with the Philippines, however that may play itself out," he said.

He also expressed his "hope and expectation" regarding Duterte and the new administration.

"My hope and expectation is that as President Duterte and his team get acclimated to his new position and that they are able to define and, clarify what exactly they want to get done, how that fits in with the work we're already doing with the Philippine government, and hopefully it will  be on a strong footing by the time the new administration comes in," Obama said. with reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com