Skele­tons still in closet as Trump flat­ters Duterte

Cape Argus - - WORLD -

MANILA: Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has sanc­tioned a bloody drug war that fea­tures ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings. He called Barack Obama a “son of a whore”. This week, he boasted that he had mur­dered a man with his own hands.

All that went un­men­tioned in pub­lic by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump when the lead­ers held talks yes­ter­day in the Philip­pines.

Re­porters saw the be­gin­ning of the lead­ers’ bi­lat­eral meet­ing dur­ing which Trump praised Duterte’s hospi­tal­ity, the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the sum­mit he was host­ing and even Manila’s weather. Trump said noth­ing about hu­man rights and both lead­ers ig­nored shouted ques­tions about the vi­o­lent drug crack­down. The two men also shared a laugh in the meet­ing when Duterte called re­porters “spies”.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said the 40-minute meet­ing fo­cused on the Is­lamic State, il­le­gal drugs, and trade. Hu­man rights, she added, briefly came up in the con­text of the Philip­pines’ fight against il­le­gal drugs. She did not say if Trump was crit­i­cal of the vi­o­lence.

That ap­peared to con­flict with the Philip­pines’ ver­sion of the meet­ing. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said “there was no men­tion of hu­man rights. There was no men­tion of ex­trale­gal killings. There was only a rather lengthy dis­cus­sion of the Philip­pine war on drugs with Pres­i­dent Duterte do­ing most of the ex­plain­ing”.

Break­ing with his pres­i­den­tial pre­de­ces­sors, Trump has largely aban­doned pub­licly press­ing for­eign lead­ers on hu­man rights, in­stead show­ing a will­ing­ness to em­brace in­ter­na­tional strong­men for strate­gic gain. He has cosied up to au­to­crats such as Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man, Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. And ear­lier in this trip to Asia he made no men­tion of hu­man rights dur­ing mul­ti­ple ap­pear­ances in Bei­jing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Duterte’s war on drugs has alarmed hu­man rights ad­vo­cates around the world who say it has al­lowed po­lice of­fi­cers and vig­i­lantes to ig­nore due process and to take jus­tice into their own hands. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that well over 3 000 peo­ple, mostly drug users and deal­ers, have died in the on­go­ing crack­down. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve the vic­tim to­tal is far higher, per­haps closer to 9 000. Duterte has stren­u­ously de­fended the vi­o­lence and boasted of par­tic­i­pat­ing him­self. Late last year, he bragged that he per­son­ally pulled the trig­ger and killed three peo­ple years ago while serv­ing as mayor of Davao City. And last week, while in Viet­nam for an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit, he said he took his first life years ear­lier.

Trump has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in pres­sur­ing Duterte to rein in the vi­o­lence, in­stead salut­ing him dur­ing a May phone call.

“I just wanted to con­grat­u­late you be­cause I am hear­ing of the un­be­liev­able job on the drug prob­lem,” Trump told Duterte, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion that later leaked.

“Many coun­tries have the prob­lem, we have a prob­lem, but what a great job you are do­ing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

White House of­fi­cials have sug­gested there is a strat­egy be­hind Trump’s flat­tery of Duterte.

RO­DRIGO DUTERTE

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