(CNSNews.com) – As a spokesman for the Philippines’ controversial leader walked back his threat to withdraw from the United Nations, a State Department spokesman declined Monday to react to President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated insults and criticisms of the United States.
Mark Toner said Duterte was well known to be a “plain speaking” politician, adding, “It’s not for me to judge that.”
Duterte during a televised press conference Sunday blasted the U.N. after two of its human rights experts spoke out against the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects linked to his tough anti-narcotic campaign. Hundreds have died since he took office after an election last May.
In comments that included several expletives, Duterte called the U.N. experts’ comments “stupid” and said they were infringing on the Philippines’ sovereignty.
Saying the Philippines may have to “separate from the United Nations,” he questioned the world body’s use, saying it “could not control America” or Russia, or stop the slaughter of people, like those in Syria.
Turning his sights on the U.S., Duterte criticized the invasion of Iraq and asked why African-Americans were being shot dead, presumably in reference to incidents of police shootings.
“Why are you Americans killing black people there, shooting them down when they are already on the ground? Answer that question,” he demanded. “Because even if it’s only one or two or three it’s still human rights violation, goddamn – you tell that to that American there.”
On Monday, Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said the president had no intention of “decoupling” from the United Nations.
“He was simply stating the fact that the Philippines is sovereign in itself,” the Philippine Star quoted Abella as saying.
“He was reiterating national sovereignty and the fact that he did not welcome interventions or what he would consider meddling,” he added.
At the State Department, spokesman Toner was invited to respond to Duterte’s latest invective. A reporter recalled earlier insults, including vulgar epithets directed at the U.S. ambassador and his characterization of Secretary of State John Kerry as “crazy.”
“Do you see this as a departure from normal relations, or is this normal?”
Toner commented on the extrajudicial killing concerns and the importance of the Philippines complying with human rights obligations, but said it was “not for us to parse what he [Duterte] may have intended to say there.”
The spokesman was then asked whether the U.S. was perhaps “inclined to ignore the insults because of the importance of the cooperation with the Philippines and of its position on the South China Sea.”
Toner reiterated the Philippines’ importance as a regional partner, but said “with regard to us looking or turning a blind eye to human rights abuses or possible human rights abuses in the Philippines, I can assure you that that’s not the case.”
He said Duterte was known to be a “plain speaking” politician.
“It’s not for me to judge that. I’m just going to say that we continue to work with the Filipino government on a broad range of bilateral and regional issues, and while at the same time making clear that as Philippines addresses issues that touch on human rights that we’re going to make our concerns clear.”
Asked whether it was appropriate for Duterte to raise the issue of police shootings in America, Toner said, “I would say it’s appropriate for anyone anywhere to ask questions or look at – again, we’re a transparent, I hope, country.”