Manila (AFP) - Aides to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sought to backtrack Monday on his threat to leave the United Nations, saying he only meant to express frustration at UN criticism of his deadly war on crime.
"It was a way of stating that the nation is sovereign. Okay? It was not a statement of fact that we are leaving," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
In a press conference that began just after 1:00am on Sunday, Duterte launched a profanity-laced tirade against the UN after two of its rapporteurs expressed alarm at his war on crime, which has claimed more than 1,700 lives in less than two months.
"Maybe we?ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you are that disrespectful, son of a whore, then I will just leave you," Duterte, who frequently uses swear words to insult his critics and others, said in the press conference.
The UN's special rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, said Duterte's promise of immunity and bounties to security forces who killed drug suspects violated international law.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June also strongly criticised Duterte, who during the election campaign promised to kill 100,000 people and dump so many bodies in Manila Bay that the fish would grow fat from feeding on them.
With Duterte's threats making global headlines, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay held a brief news conference specifically on the issue on Monday.
"The statement of the president is a statement expressing profound disappointment and frustrations and it is not any statement that should indicate a threat to leave the United Nations," Yasay said.
Yasay also sought to lay blame on the reporter who asked Duterte a question about the issue.
"He already ended up the press conference, as I observed, but the press was still needling him with a lot of questions so it was in this context that he made these statements," Yasay said.
"And if you're especially tired, disappointed and frustrated and angry, and under the circumstances, we must give a leeway on the part of the president for this kind of reaction. Like us, he is also human."
Nevertheless, Yasay said the final word rested with Duterte.
"I will assure you the president is very responsible in making statements. He will not make statements unless he means them," he said.