On Monday morning, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines called a press conference in the capital, Manila, before he left for Laos.
He had been scheduled to meet with US president Barack Obama for bilateral talks on the sidelines of a gathering of heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and so the press conference naturally discussed relations between Manila and Washington.
By the time the meeting was over, however, President Duterte, a controversial figure by any standards, had earned himself the dubious distinction of being the only leader at the summit to publicly declare his disdain for President Obama, regarded the leader of the free, democratic world.
In a hard-hitting attack on Mr Obama, Mr Duterte took the unconventional route in diplomatic circles, criticising the US president’s personal life and insulting his mother.
A visibly agitated Duterte, responding to Mr Obama’s criticism of his human rights track record and extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users, told the US president that he was the president “of a sovereign state”, and that Philippines had “long ceased to be a colony”.
“I do not have any master except the Filipino people,” he said in the local Tagalog language and followed the statement with an expletive that translates to “son of a bi***”.
He then warned the US president that he would “swear” at him at the meeting in Laos should he dare question Manila’s excesses.
STARTED DIPLOMATIC WAR
“You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. We will be wallowing in the mud like pigs if you do that to me,” he warned.
And thus started a diplomatic war that has brought to international attention the bristly nature of President Duterte, the lawyer who earlier this year rode to power on the platform of an extrajudicial war on crime and drugs.
Since ascending to the helm in May this year, Mr Duterte has overseen the killing of more than 2,400 drug addicts and petty criminals, twice the number of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence victims.
He has been linked to the Davao Death Squad vigilante group and nicknamed “The Punisher” byTime magazine.
He has also been criticised by local and international media and human rights groups for his violent approach to fighting Manila’s narcotics problem.
However, in his usual brusque nature, he has constantly played down the accusations. Responding to criticism by the United Nations earlier this year, Mr Duterte threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the UN and forge new alliances with China and the African Union.
A few hours after Mr Duterte’s foul-mouthed attack on President Obama on Monday, the White House said it had cancelled a planned meeting with the leader. The pair had been due to hold a bilateral meeting yesterday in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.
On Tuesday, Mr Duterte expressed regret for the tirade, saying that, while the immediate cause was “my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress”, he regretted that “it came across as a personal attack on the US president.”