The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, expressed regret on Tuesday for the controversy he caused by calling President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and threatening to swear at the U.S. leader if he brought up human rights abuses in the Asian nation. The remark gained widespread attention this week and came days before the two leaders planned to talk during an economic forum in Laos ― a meeting that was canceled after Duterte’s insult.
Inflammatory remarks are central to the brash public persona of Duterte, who was elected in May. Rights groups and politicians have routinely criticized him for his controversial statements, including saying he wanted to join in a gang rape of an Australian missionary and threatening mass killings of drug dealers. On Tuesday, he told militants in the country, “I will eat you in front of people.”
But of all the threats and insults that Duterte has hurled against his critics and perceived opponents, his go-to appears to be calling people sons of whores. He has commonly used “putang ina,” which translates from the Tagalog language as “son of a whore” or “son of a bitch,” to describe figures ranging from drug dealers to world leaders.
Although Duterte issued an apology of sorts for using the term to describe Obama, most other targets haven’t received the same treatment. Duterte still has not taken back calling U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg “gay” and a “son of a whore” last month. He also never apologized for calling former President Benigno Aquino III a “son of a whore” during the election campaign, after Aquino criticized Duterte by asking voters to remember how Adolf Hitler came to power.
Duterte has drawn comparisons to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for using offensive rhetoric and branding himself as a political outsider. Trump, however, is yet another political figure Duterte has called a “son of a whore.” The Philippines leader dismissed comparisons between him and Trump in May, saying that the Republican candidate was a bigot who hated Muslims.
In some cases, Duterte has employed his go-to term for entire organizations or groups of people. He suggested that the Philippines could simply quit the United Nations if the international body criticized his country’s brutal drug war, saying “son of a whore, then I will just leave you.” He also used the insult against drug dealers during a campaign rally in May, adding “I will really kill you.”
Along with Obama, the most high-profile person Duterte has insulted in such a way is Pope Francis. The pope’s apparent offense was causing traffic jams during a papal visit last year in Davao City, where Duterte was the mayor at the time. The vast majority of the Philippines’ citizens are Catholic, and though the remark didn’t notably hurt Duterte’s popularity, he did say upon his election that he wanted to ask the pope’s forgiveness for the remark.
Duterte’s comments on Obama unsurprisingly created a diplomatic incident and attracted international media attention, but they’re unlikely to negatively affect the firebrand president’s popularity.
Philippines voters have been unfazed by Duterte’s statements in the past, viewing him as the solution to the country’s rampant drug and crime problems. The tough talk and harsh rhetoric merely reinforce Duterte supporters’ view that the president has the boldness needed to tackle these issues.
A July poll showed Duterte’s popularity rating at 91 percent, despite the controversies surrounding him, which included the beginning of a huge surge in extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers and users since he was elected. At least 1,900 people have been killed since Duterte began his drug war, according to the Philippines’ head of police.