President Donald Trump left a false impression that a plane carrying former President Barack Obama “came close but it didn’t land” in the Philippines due to poor relations between the countries.
Obama did have a strained relationship with current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Obama never visited the Southeast Asian country while Duterte was in charge (though Obama did visit the Philippines twice before Duterte was president). But, contrary to Trump’s account, Obama never had a flight to the Philippines diverted.
Trump’s odd comment came during a press gaggle in Manila on the tail end of the president’s trip to Asia.
After meeting with Duterte, Trump said the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. was now “probably better than ever before.” Under Obama, the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines was “horrible,” Trump told the gathered press. He added, “You know what happened. Many of you were there, and you never got to land. The plane came close but it didn’t land.”
We have no idea what Trump was referring to, and the White House press office offered no on-the-record clarification.
It’s true that Obama cancelled a scheduled meeting with Duterte that had been planned for Sept. 6, 2016 at a regional summit in Laos. A day earlier, the Philippines president called Obama a “son of a bitch” and warned the U.S. president not to challenge him over extrajudicial killings. According to AP, “[m]ore than 2,000 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since Duterte launched a war on drugs after taking office on June 30,” 2016.
At a press conference in China, Obama was told of Duterte’s remarks. Obama referred to Duterte as a “colorful guy,” and said that a meeting between the two men was only worth having if “it’s actually productive and we’re getting something done.” Within hours, Obama canceled the meeting with Duterte and met instead with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Prior to Duterte’s presidency, Obama visited the Philippines in April 2014 and again in November 2015. In the 2014 visit, Obama met with then Philippine president, Benigno S. Aquino III, and announced — among other things — a 10-year agreement that will allow the U.S. greater access military bases in the region. During the visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2015, Obama discussed his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As we said, Duterte assumed the presidency on June 30, 2016, so his tenure overlapped Obama’s last six months in office. It’s true, as we said, that Obama visited the region when he attended the East Asia Summit Meeting in Laos that September. However, we could find no record of a planned stop in the Philippines during that trip.
So it’s unclear why Trump told the press, “You know what happened. Many of you were there, and you never got to land. The plane came close but it didn’t land.” The comment suggests Air Force One was denied landing privileges in Philippines, or that Obama called off a trip while en route to the Philippines. There’s no evidence either of those things happened.