Officials in the Philippines lashed out on Wednesday, saying that they are very concerned with a recent U.S. intelligence report that labeled its strongman President Rodrigo Duterte a threat to regional democracy.
The assessment has made it “very difficult to be friendly” with the U.S., Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement. “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is no autocrat or has autocratic tendencies. He adheres to the rule of law and remains loyal to the constitution,” he continued, adding that the Duterte administration views the report with “some concern.”
The government statement also suggested that the Philippines takes the report more seriously because it came from the intelligence community and not the State Department, and hinted that the Asian nation’s top leadership is concerned the U.S. may decide to meddle in the country’s internal affairs.
The intelligence report, released on February 13 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, highlights the Philippine president’s threats to suspend the constitution, declare a revolutionary government and impose a nationwide martial law. He has also pledged not to stay in office after his term limit ends in 2022, saying he would rather the military shoot him dead than continue to rule the country.
But the report comes just two months after Duterte last threatened to impose martial law across the Philippines, and he recently expressed his intention to extend the measure in the region of Mindanao until the end of 2018. Martial law was imposed there in May 2017 after rebels allied with the Islamic State laid siege to the city of Marawi, the region’s commercial center. In addition to imposing martial law, Duterte also pushed for Muslims in the southern region to be granted autonomous rule.
Duterte has a notoriously fraught relationship with U.S. leadership, and former President Barack Obama opted to cancel a meeting with the Philippine president after the outspoken strongman called him a “son of a whore.” But Duterte has maintained an unusually friendly relationship with President Donald Trump, who has praised the Philippines’s brutal and bloody war on drugs and avoided mentioning human rights abuses or extrajudicial killings. More than 4,000 people have been murdered by the police in the drug war since Duterte took office in June 2016, and rights groups have accused police of summarily executing people, including suspected drug users.
During a visit to the Philippines in November, Trump boasted of his “great relationship” with Duterte. The Philippine leader has also adopted Trump’s accusations of “fake news” in an attempt to intimidate critical journalists.
Since his inauguration last year, Trump has repeatedly been at loggerheads with U.S. intelligence agencies. He has called FBI and CIA officials liars and leakers, and his supporters have even launched a campaign to discredit the FBI.
“The takeaway is that the president’s rejection of specific intelligence community assessments appears to be based on how they personally affect him, his administration, and those close to him, and not on a fundamental belief that the intelligence community and its work is not credible,” lawyer Carrie Cordero noted in a blog post for the national security website Lawfare.
The U.S. report also called out Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, Thailand’s military constitution and Myanmar’s mass murder of Rohingya Muslims as threats to democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia.
More from Newsweek