The controversial President of the Philippines claims representatives from the US and Australia “have considerably toned down” their criticism of his human rights record.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at an Asian regional conference – the highest-level interaction between a member of Donald Trump's administration and Mr Duterte to date.
Mr Duterte, speaking about his meetings with Mr Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, said the discussions revolved “mostly” around terrorism, and that human rights came up “only in passing”.
He also introduced himself to Mr Tillerson publicly as a “humble friend” and “ally” of the United States.
A representative for the State Department contested this version of events, telling the Washington Post that Mr Tillerson had brought up critiques of the Philippines's ongoing war on drugs and offered assistance in combating the problem.
Tillerson aide RC Hammond quoted the Secretary of State as saying: “Mr. President, we are all aware of the American people’s criticism of you in your handling of the drug cartels."
Mr Duterte campaigned on a promise of cleaning up the drug trade in the Philippines, vowing to “kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable”. Human rights groups say as many as 6,000 people have been killed as a result of this war on drugs. The UN high commissioner for human rights has called for a criminal investigation into the President.
Relations between the US and the Philippines, however, have warmed under Mr Trump’s leadership. The US President has praised Mr Duterte for doing "an unbelievable job on the drug problem,” and even invited him to visit the White House.
Both the US and Philippines said they planned to discuss human rights at the Asian regional gathering. But neither Mr Duterte nor Mr Tillerson addressed the issue at a press conference before their meeting, focusing instead on the nuclear situation in North Korea. When a reporter shouted out a question about human rights, the two men ignored it.
Asked about the issue at a private press conference later, Mr Duterte replied: "Human rights, son of a b****."
"Policemen and soldiers have died on me,” he continued. “The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So human rights, don't go there."
Mr Tillerson also referenced the war in Marawi, saying he sees “no conflict at all” between the US’s position on human rights and their assistance to the Philippines in fighting that war.
The Philippine government has been fighting Isis-affiliated militants in Marawi since May. More than 120 Philippine troops and 45 civilians have been killed in the fighting. Mr Duterte has placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law.
Mr Tillerson said the US has provided the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to aid them in the conflict.
"I see no conflict — no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities," Mr Tillerson said.
Of the human rights situation, he added, the Philippines appears to be "beginning to get that situation under control”.
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