Duterte Draws Ire Over Attire in King Meeting

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to make a great impression on government officials who drank champagne and signed deals with him during a two-day visit; however, he left a bad taste in the mouths of some Cambodians.

A photograph that circulated on Facebook showing Mr. Duterte meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace wearing a traditional Filipino Barong shirt with rolled-up sleeves and an open collar had Cambodians railing on social media.

cam photo duterte 1
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, meets with King Norodom Sihamoni in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, in a photograph that drew the ire of some Cambodians on Facebook.

“Everybody already know he is rude,” one user posted, along with a frowning emoji. “But to the king is too much.”

“Kick his ass out of the royal palace,” another wrote.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Thursday that Mr. Duterte’s attire may have caused a “culture shock,” but should not be interpreted as an affront to the king.

“It causes a bit of a culture shock to see his sleeves rolled up like that,” Mr. Siphan said. “Some people say it is not appropriate to meet the king the way he dressed up. But I think this is his style.”

Prince Sisowath Thomico, who for years worked in the administration of King Sihamoni and the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, said dress was rarely discussed with visiting heads of state, as it was assumed they would meet the king in formal attire.

The prince noted the Barong—a semi-transparent shirt worn untucked over an undershirt—was formal attire in the Philippines, and was even worn by King Sihanouk during an official visit there.

“So I think this was a misunderstanding,” he said. “That is the official position of the palace.”

An attache at the Philippines Embassy in Phnom Penh, who asked not to be named as a matter of policy, said there was “nothing wrong” with wearing one’s national dress to a formal meeting.

“For a visit, it is formal attire,” she said of Mr. Duterte’s outfit. Asked why the president wore a Western-style suit during a recent visit to China, she said: “I don’t know about that, sir.”

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