President Duterte accused Myanmar of “genocide” and said he was willing to accept Rohingya Muslim refugees into the Philippines.
The UN says some 700,000 people have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since last August when Rohingya militant attacks sparked a military crackdown.
The UN and several Western countries have said the response constitutes ethnic cleansing but Myanmar rejects the charge. It says its security forces have been conducting legitimate operations against terrorists.
Duterte, in a speech at an awards ceremony at the Malacañang today (Thursday, April 5), expressed sympathy for the Rohingya and offered to help them.
In remarks that drew an angry response from Burmese government officials, he said: “I really pity the people there. I’m willing to accept refugees. Rohingyas, yes. I will help but we should split them with Europe.”
He also criticised the international community’s failure to tackle the problems in the country. “They can’t even solve the Rohingya. That’s what genocide is, if I may say so,” he said.
Zaw Htay, a Burmese government spokesman, said the president’s comments did not reflect the real situation.
“He doesn’t know anything about Myanmar,” he told Reuters. “The usual behavior of that person is to speak without restraint. That’s why he said that.”
The president’s comments were broadcast live and later included in an official transcript of his speech.
Both the Philippines and Myanmar are members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) which has long upheld a convention of carefully avoiding criticism of fellow members.
Duterte did not refer by name to the de-facto Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been widely criticised for failing to protect the largely stateless Rohingya, only saying: “That woman, she is my friend.”