Duterte’s unconventional, and indeed, impassioned manners have earned him a kind of popularity among the members of ASEAN, most of whom are used to a smooth, almost humdrum, scripted and straightforward event, especially one that gathers together some of the most powerful leaders in this part of the world.
Indeed his strong words, coupled with the controversy on human rights issues in the government’s war against drugs, have put Duterte at center stage. All eyes are fixed on him, and many were attracted to the Philippine strongman, so much so that the Philippine delegate reports that the firebrand president was accorded “rockstar treatment.”
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Wednesday that “President Duterte is a rockstar not only in our country, but also in other countries like Laos and Japan,” and that “Other foreign ministers and delegates have scrambled to get a selfie with our President.”
Malacañang official Peter Lavina likewise publicly posted on his Facebook page that this treatment was clearly evident in the proposed seating arrangement at the summit’s dinner:
However, the perception may have been too premature. At the end of the dinner, the Philippine president ended up sitting next to between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, while Obama was pictured exchanging niceties with the Vietnamese prime minister’s wife.
The premature announcement from the Philippine government regarding the seating arrangements has proven to be an embarrassment, which was quickly picked up by both international media and local observers. As netizen Bernard Ong puts it,
Duterte also received compliments from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who shook hands with Duterte and was quoted as saying, “Mr. President is quite a famous figure also in Japan and I’m very excited to see you in person.”
However, netizen Tina Cuyugan posted a screenshot of a news program in Japan which broadcasted perhaps the very reason why Duterte was “famous in Japan.” On her post, fellow netizen Bob Couttie attempts to explain the message between Abe’s lines.
Despite the excitement of having a tough-talking president thrust and parry with some of the most important politicians in the world, observers of the ASEAN summit would be mistaken if they thought that bravado and brash speech have a welcome place in a collective of Asian leaders who value low-key and non-confrontational approaches in diplomatic relations.
At best, ASEAN leaders perhaps see this behavior as a kind of novelty, but would be horrified themselves should such be found among their own.