Duterte, a fast-talking former mayor who swept to power this spring, was telling reporters about his relationship with U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg when he made the wildly homophobic — and utterly undiplomatic — remark.
"As you know, I’m fighting with [U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off,” Duterte said. (He was speaking in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines, and the word for "son of a whore" isn't quite as pointed as it seems in English. It might be compared to calling someone an S.O.B.)
During this year's election campaign, Duterte drew national and international condemnation for saying he wished he had "been first" to rape an Australian missionary who was assaulted and killed during a prison riot. The Australian ambassador objected, as did Goldberg. Duterte told them both to "shut up."
The not-so-presidential comment came at a sensitive time.
With China pressing its claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, the Philippines and the United States have moved to deepen their long-standing military alliance. A defense pact upheld this year allows the U.S. military to build facilities at five Philippine bases, and more U.S. ships than ever are stopping by the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay.
But Duterte has gone back and forth on his relationship with the United States, a fact that has raised questions about how he would handle a potential conflict in the South China Sea.
During his campaign, Duterte said he might be willing to make a deal with China in return for major infrastructure spending on his home island, then quixotically vowed to ride a water scooter to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and plant the Philippine flag. As president, he has thus far taken a more restrained approach, potentially laying the groundwork for better ties with China.
Duterte is also facing criticism from the United States and others over a bloody crackdown on alleged drug dealers.
Since Duterte took office, more than 400 suspected drug dealers have been killed, 4,400 have been arrested, and more than 600,000 people have surrendered themselves to authorities to avoid being killed, the Associated Press reported.
“We are concerned by these detentions, as well as the extrajudicial killing of individuals suspected to be involved in drug activity in the Philippines,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said Monday.
Goldberg is not the first dignitary to be subjected to crude comments from Duterte. The now-president once made headlines for using the same "son of a whore" word to describe the pope.