PRES­I­DENT DON­ALD TRUMP praised Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and touted their “great re­la­tion­ship” re­cently. Trump didn’t, how­ever, make men­tion of Duterte’s roundly crit­i­cized hu­man-rights record.

In pub­lic, pres­i­dent avoids sub­ject of rights is­sues in­volv­ing Philip­pine leader

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin Washington Bu­reau’s Noah Bier­man and The Washington Post con­trib­uted.

MANILA, Philip­pines — Wind­ing down his visit to Asia, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­peat­edly praised Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, called him by his first name, shared a joke with him about the me­dia and even com­pli­mented Manila’s weather. What he did not do Mon­day was what many of his pre­de­ces­sors made a point of do­ing while abroad: pub­licly high­light hu­man rights abuses.

Duterte has over­seen a vi­o­lent drug war that has fea­tured ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings.

But dur­ing brief re­marks to re­porters as he sat with Duterte at the start of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions gath­er­ing, Trump said he and Duterte have “had a great re­la­tion­ship,” and he avoided ques­tions about whether he’d raise hu­man rights con­cerns with the Filipino leader dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing on the side­lines of the sum­mit.

Duterte, host of this year’s sum­mit, dis­missed the re­porters in the room as “spies” — draw­ing a laugh from Trump — and didn’t con­ceal his dis­plea­sure at their pres­ence as he had them quickly hus­tled out.

The White House later said the two lead­ers discussed the Is­lamic State group, il­le­gal drugs and trade dur­ing the 40-minute meet­ing. Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said hu­man rights came up “briefly” in the con­text of the Philip­pines’ fight against il­le­gal drugs, but she did not say if Trump was crit­i­cal of Duterte’s pro­gram.

That ap­peared to con­flict with the Filipino 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.”

“From the body lan­guage of the U.S. pres­i­dent, he seemed to be in agree­ment,” Roque added.

A joint state­ment is­sued later said that “the two sides un­der­scored that hu­man rights and the dig­nity of hu­man life are es­sen­tial, and agreed to con­tinue main­stream­ing the hu­man rights agenda in their national pro­grams.”

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 take jus­tice into their own hands.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that 3,000 peo­ple, mostly drug users and deal­ers, have died in the on­go­ing crack­down. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve the vic­tim to­tal is per­haps closer to 9,000.

In Manila at the ASEAN con­fer­ence, Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pa­cific Rim al­lies, aim­ing to strike one-on-one trade deals rather than multi­na­tional trade agree­ments, and in­crease pres­sure on North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram.

He met with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and high­lighted their two na­tions’ “deeper and more com­pre­hen­sive” ties, look­ing to strengthen a re­la­tion­ship that is vi­tal to the U.S. vi­sion of an In­doPa­cific re­gion that at­tempts to de-em­pha­size China’s in­flu­ence.

He jointly met with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, with whom he had a con­tentious phone call last win­ter, and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who hosted the pres­i­dent in Tokyo ear­lier in the trip. Trump touted his ac­com­plish­ments on his five­na­tion jour­ney, par­tic­u­larly on trade and on North Korea, which the White House has sug­gested may be des­ig­nated a state spon­sor of ter­ror.

Trump said he would wait un­til his return to Washington on Wed­nes­day to elab­o­rate with a “ma­jor state­ment” on those two top­ics but hinted at progress while in Manila.

“We’ve made some very big steps with re­gard to trade — far big­ger than any­thing you know,” Trump told re­porters, point­ing to business deals forged be­tween U.S. and for­eign com­pa­nies.

Trump also said the trip had been “very fruit­ful” for the United States and pointed to the warm wel­comes he had re­ceived in cap­i­tals in­clud­ing Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.

“It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever re­ceived,” Trump said. “And that re­ally is a sign of re­spect, per­haps for me a lit­tle, but re­ally for our coun­try. And I’m re­ally proud of that.”

On Tues­day, Trump will at­tend a sec­ond con­fer­ence, the an­nual East Asia Sum­mit, be­fore re­turn­ing to Washington late that night.

ROLEX DELA PENA/EPA

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Mon­day he and Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte have “had a great re­la­tion­ship.” They met at the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions event.

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