Even in a roomful of tinhorn dictators, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines would stand out. He has insulted President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, admitted to killing suspected criminals, called a United Nations official an “idiot” and threatened to burn down the U.N. headquarters. He’s also signaled his interest in closer ties with China, a nation with which the United States has conflicts on trade, security and other matters.
Though it’s unclear what kind of relationship he and President-elect Donald Trump will have, the United States may have a difficult balancing act ahead in holding Mr. Duterte to international standards while preserving its long-important relationship with the Philippines. It will be especially important to ensure that U.S. aid to the Philippines is not used for illicit purposes, such as an extrajudicial war on drugs.
Mr. Duterte’s outbursts are more unsettling than braggadocio. They give the impression that he’s unhinged. In September, Mr. Duterte called Mr. Obama a vulgarity because of concern that the latter intended to question him about summary executions in the Philippines’ war on drugs. To be sure, Mr. Duterte was not offended by the suggestion that he did anything untoward; he just didn’t feel Mr. Obama ought to press him about it.
In recent days. Mr. Duterte’s comments have become increasingly outrageous, leading to more questions about how the United States should handle him. After publicly admitting to killing suspected criminals when he was the mayor of Davao City, Mr. Duterte threatened to burn down the U.N. headquarters in New York, denigrated the U.N.’s top human-rights official for suggesting that his claims of murder be investigated and referred to U.N. officials as his employees because of the membership dues his nation pays.
Now, three U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, a state with a large Filipino population, have asked the State Department to determine whether millions of dollars the United States has provided for law-enforcement training in the Philippines were diverted to extrajudicial drug fighting.
The State Department should undertake this assessment and share its findings publicly so that, if the senators’ concerns are valid, U.S. and international policy toward Mr. Duterte can be modified accordingly. He is not likely to appreciate the scrutiny. If he comes to New York, someone should be assigned to watch him.