A combative Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte blasted critics of his anti-drugs war on Thursday and demanded that European Union envoys leave the country within 24 hours.
He lashed out at the E.U. during a speech a month before the Philippines was to host a summit of Southeast Asian leaders and their European Union and U.S. counterparts. The Europe-based International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance visited Manila recently and called on his government to end its drug war immediately or risk losing preferential trade rights.
“You think we’re a bunch of morons here,” Duterte said in his speech at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila. “The ambassadors of those countries listening now, tell me. Because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours. All. All of you.”
It was unclear what he meant, and a spokesman at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said officials were unaware of the ultimatum, adding the department received no specific instruction from the presidential palace.
As president, Duterte said, he was empowered to dictate foreign policy and cut ties with any country.
“The conduct of external affairs of this country is not in Congress. It’s not in the Supreme Court. It is the presidency in the great separation of powers,” the president said. “It is solely the privilege of the executive department.”
Reacting to Duterte’s threat, the E.U. delegation in the Philippines said it continued to work closely with Manila “in many contexts and areas, including, of course in the U.N. context.”
It clarified that a visit of European politicians last week when delegates voiced concern over what they said was a deteriorating rights situation here was not a “European Union mission.”
That visit was arranged independently by a group called the “International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance” and was a private initiative, the E.U. office in the Philippines said.
“The European Union was not part of the organization or planning of that visit – neither the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines nor the European Union institutions in Brussels,” it said in a statement.
Despite Duterte’s threat, the delegation “continues to operate and function normally” and would carry on in working constructively with Manila, it said.
The mission, whose members are European parliamentarians, warned that Manila risked losing a preferential trade deal allowing more than 6,200 products duty-free entry into the 28 nation-bloc if it failed to stop the killings and persecution of critics.
The General System of Preferences (GSP) deal is under review and the E.U. report on the Philippines is expected as early as January 2018.
On Thursday, Duterte said should the Philippines be excluded from the GSP, it could boost trade with China and Russia, two countries his administration has been courting as it seeks to move away from the United States.
He said the two countries could absorb the trade the “stupid European Union guys” would not accept.
House of Representatives member Tom Villarin said that Duterte’s reaction showed his immaturity in dealing with international relations and negative publicity.
“It is not interference in our domestic affairs. Rather, it shows the E.U.’s concern for our country not being seen as a rogue state when it comes to rule of law and human rights,” Villarin said.
“It should be stressed that there are thousands of Filipinos living in the E.U. that will be adversely affected by kicking out E.U. ambassadors in our country.”
On Wednesday, Duterte ordered police to take a step back on the war on drugs with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency assuming oversight, as his government moves to slow dropping popularity ratings.
Public anger over the recent killings of three teenage suspects during anti-drug operations erupted in street protests, with the Catholic Church pledging to protect any members of the police force willing to serve as witnesses.
Duterte on Thursday insisted that the drug menace in the country had become such a huge problem that since he took office, 147 officers had been killed in counter-narcotics operations.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.