Trump on charm offensive in Philippines
Duterte praised despite dubious rights record
DONALD Trump declared yesterday he had a “great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed killer who is waging a drugs war that rights groups say involves mass murder, as the leaders joked with each other in Manila.
The US president is in the Philippines with leaders of 18 other nations for two days of summits, the final leg of a headline-grabbing Asian tour dominated by the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The second half of his 12-day trip has taken him from Japan to South Korea, China and Vietnam before Manila.
Rights groups had called on Trump to end his Asian journey with a strong statement against Duterte’s drugs war, which has seen police and suspected vigilantes kill thousands of people.
But Trump and Duterte had a series of encounters on Sunday night and yesterday morning in which they appeared to enjoy each others’ company.
“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful,” Trump told Duterte in brief opening remarks at their meeting.
Trump praised Duterte for his organisation of the summits, saying he handled them “beautifully”. “I’ve really enjoyed being here,” he said.
As the reporters were being escorted out of the room, one asked if Trump would raise the issue of human rights.
Duterte, in response, jokingly called the media “spies”.
Both laughed but and neither answered. Duterte’s spokesman later said repeatedly that Trump did not raise any human rights concerns in the meeting, which lasted about 40 minutes.
However, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights was raised, although “briefly”.
Duterte won elections last year after promising to eradicate illegal drugs with an unprecedented campaign that would see up to 100 000 people killed.
Since he took office, police have reported killing 3 967 people in the crackdown. Another 2 290 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.
Amnesty International accuses police of shooting dead defenceless people and paying assassins to murder addicts.
When pressured over allegations of extra-judicial killings carried out by police, Duterte insists he has never told them to break the law.
But rights groups say police are following Duterte’s incitements to kill, including comments made last year when he said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts.
He has also repeatedly boasted about killing people himself, most recently last week while in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific economic summit.
“At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look,” Duterte said.
Relations between the Philippines and the United States, longtime allies bound by a mutual defence treaty, deteriorated sharply under Obama as Duterte turned towards China and Russia, and Duterte last year declared the Philippines’ “separation” from the US.
But Trump told Duterte in a telephone call in April that he was doing a “great job”, which helped to begin a diplomatic thaw. “We are your ally. We are an important ally,” Duterte said yesterday, appearing to confirm relations were back on track, although he has also continued to court China and Russia.
Some Filipinos were not happy though, with hundreds of people staging an anti-Trump rally near the conference venue which led riot police to use water cannon.
Duterte and Trump sat next to each other at a pre-summit banquet on Sunday, during which they smiled, chatted and clinked champagne glasses.
Duterte, 72, also sang a Filipino love song, saying lightheartedly that he did so on the orders of the US president. — AFP
SUMMIT HOST: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte participates in the US-Asean Summit in Manila, Philippines yesterday
ALL SMILES: US President Donald Trump with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, and President of the Philippines