Late last year, Rodrigo Duterte declared Islamic State militants could “forget human rights” if they sought to fight in the Philippines
The Philippine government welcomed the visit of the United States' top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, in the ASEAN-related meetings. The United States’ Secretary of State was expected to talk about human rights issues in the Asian nation amid President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against the illegal drug trade. If the two leaders did discuss those or other U.S. concerns about Duterte's government, they didn't do so in public. Instead, the two focused on the alliance between the two countries and on the North Korean issue.
It was the highest-level interaction to date between a member of President Donald Trump's administration and Duterte, accused by human rights groups of flagrant abuses in his bloody war against illegal drugs. At a news conference, after the meeting with Tillerson, Duterte said he shouldn't be questioned about alleged violations given the challenges he's facing. "Policemen and soldiers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So human rights [groups], don't go there."
Human rights groups have questioned the Trump administration's willingness to engage with Duterte. But Tillerson argued there's no contradiction presented by the U.S. decision to help the Philippines fight the militants, whose insurgency has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.
While the Philippines and the US have had an uneasy relationship since he took office last year, Duterte said the two countries are “friends and allies”. Official sources said the President initially did not want to meet with Tillerson and it was only on Sunday evening that he agreed to an audience with the US official. The President refused to divulge the details of his discussion with Tillerson, except that part of the conversation was on terrorism. “No, no. There were no talks on human rights concerns”, Duterte stated in a press briefing after the meeting with Tillerson.
The US under former president Barack Obama had criticized Duterte’s war on illegal drugs and has urged the Philippine leader to uphold human rights in all law enforcement efforts. Duterte lashed back by saying that the United States has no moral ascendancy to lecture on human rights because of its alleged atrocities during the wars in Iraq, the Vietnam War, and the Philippine-American War. When Donald Trump won the presidential race, the Philippine president expressed optimism that he would be able to get along well with the incoming American leader because of their similarities.
Nearly 700 people have died in the intense fighting, including 528 militants since hundreds of black flag waving gunmen stormed into buildings and homes in the business district and outlying communities of mosque-studded Marawi, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
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