Philippine ambassador hits out at Herald's 'ambush' on President Duterte

By Lincoln Tan

The Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand Jesus Domingo has hit out at the Herald's "ambush journalism" and defended President Rodrigo Duterte for asking the reporter if she was married.

Duterte also twice referred to New Zealand as Australia, and thanked the "Australians" for hosting him.

The controversial president, known also as "The Punisher", stopped to speak with the female Herald reporter while leaving the Langham Hotel in Auckland on Wednesday. He had refused repeated requests since Tuesday to talk to a senior male reporter.

Duterte told the female reporter when asked if he would return to New Zealand, he said: "pag niyaya mo ako (if you invite me)...are you married?"

"What came out was a result of an ambush interview, I don't think the president was quite well prepared and he was very groggy," Domingo said.

Domingo said the plan was for Duterte to "quietly slip in and out" of the country, and not to front any media or meet the local Filipino community.

"The stopover was just meant for the president to rest, so you didn't quite capture the president in fighting form," he said.

On asking the reporter if she was married, Domingo said that was the President's style.

Philippines ambassador Jesus Domingo has defended president Rodrigo Duterte after a bizarre interview with the Herald. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Philippines ambassador Jesus Domingo has defended president Rodrigo Duterte after a bizarre interview with the Herald. Photo / Lincoln Tan

"He likes to be a little naughty," he said.

"Like many political figures they have a sense of humour, and that's his particular sense of humour."

Domingo also defended the president's confusion between Australia and New Zealand.

"People often mix up sometimes Australia and Austria, Canada and the US," he said.

"Australia and New Zealand are very close together with a closely intertwined history, so it's not uncommon to hear that mix-up."

Duterte was in Auckland on his way home from Peru where he'd been attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The interview with the Herald, where he expressed a desire to work more closely with New Zealand, was the one and only he gave during the trip.

Duterte was feeling unwell and ordered traditional Filipino dishes daing na bangos (fried milk fish), talong (eggplant) and monggo (mung bean stew) from a local restaurant, Boracay Gardens, which were delivered to his room.

"He's a man with simple taste, and he does miss his Filipino food," Domingo said.

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The ambassador said Duterte had also expressed an interest in sending his daughter to study law in New Zealand.

A key topic discussed at the dinner meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was the "war on drugs".

"This is a top priority in the Philippines, and a subject that has generated the most controversy and interest," Domingo said.

"He explained in-depth the outlook of the war on drugs and how it's going, and also addressing a number of the concerns that have been raised along the way.

Duterte, who took office on June 30, promised to kill more than 100,000 drug users and fill Manila Bay with their bodies.

He has urged citizens and police to conduct extra-judicial killings, earning him the nickname of "The Punisher".

"On the supposed, alleged, mandated extra-judicial killings, the president has not directed the police or authorities to undertake any illegal actions.

"Granted, his speech is colourful and he may say things that may raise eyebrows, but you have to talk tough when you're dealing with criminals, armed gangs and syndicates."

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