MANILA – Russians took jabs at Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for looking shabby in a formal meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday (Oct 2).
In one of the photos of that meeting, Mr Duterte was seen wearing a dark grey suit that appeared to have been taken off a mall rack, a white shirt with unbuttoned collar that needed some ironing, and a loose tie that some observers suggested seemed to have been pre-knotted.
He was shaking the hand of Mr Medvedev who, in contrast, was wearing a tailored suit, a neatly pressed shirt and a tie with the knot pulled up to close the collar.
“Rodrigo Duterte showed up a bit unkempt for the meeting with the Russian PM Medvedev in Moscow, and the Russian Internet is having a blast,” Russian radio editor and podcaster Pavel Vondra said in a Twitter post.
Quoting comments from Russians about the photo, Mr Vondra further tweeted: “Did he drink all night? Did he just leave the pub? Do Filipinos know what a (state visit) protocol is?”
Comments from Filipinos were equally harsh, with several declaring, “He is not my president” and calling the fashion faux pas “embarrassing”.
“Distasteful,” said Mr Ginno Jaralve, a political science student at the University of the Philippines.
“Duterte is a disgrace,” said film student Gerard Bernardo of the College of Saint Benilde.
“Guy always looks like someone forced him out of bed,” M’am Syj, who identified herself as a teacher.
“Duterte tries hard to look like he doesn’t give a s*** in Medvedev meeting,” read a headline at the political website Politika.
Mr Manolo Quezon, who worked at the communications unit of former president Benigno Aquino, said: “Pointless to point out that the job can’t be done if from the start the host (and their population) are antagonised by the discourtesy of being sloppy: particularly in societies like China or Russia where formality matters.”
Mr Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo defended his boss’ fashion sense.
“What those kibitzers refer to is the way he wore his tie. He loosened it up. He feels suffocated and very uncomfortable if the tie is tightly in place in the collar,” he said in a Twitter post.
He added: “The President is very hygienic. His body emits a refreshing scent as observed by people who meet up close to him.”
A few of his supporters also rallied around Mr Duterte.
“What matters most is what he is doing for his country. Hypocrites are those clad in expensive stuff, always ‘presentable’ but is empty in the head,” said Ating Alamin (Let Us Learn), a Twitter account which uses the title of an old TV programme patronised by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
This is not the first time Mr Duterte has breached diplomatic protocol.
Last month, he met Chinese President Xi Jinping at a formal occasion at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse donning a grey suit and a white shirt with unbuttoned collar, and no tie.
Mr Duterte is known to disdain wearing suits.
He opts for short-sleeved shirts on most of his events, insisting that he prefers comfort to appearance.
Even when donning the Philippines’ national formal wear, called the “barong Tagalog”, he eschews etiquette by folding the sleeves.
Mr Duterte is in Russia to meet his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin, and press efforts to broaden relations while maintaining robust ties with treaty ally the United States.
He will hold talks with Mr Putin in Sochi city on expanding cooperation in security and defence and combating terrorism, extremism and cross-border crimes.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Russian officials were expected to offer a range of defence equipment, including assault and transport helicopters, warships, drones and tanks which the Philippines could acquire as it modernises its military, one of Asia’s most ill-equipped.