Manila: US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had a “great relationship” with his Philippines counterpart Rodrigo Duterte, who is accused of carrying out a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings in his nations war on drugs.
The two leaders met for the first time briefly on Friday at an economic summit in Danang, Vietnam, and were photographed raising wine glasses together in a toast at the opening dinner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) forum here on Sunday.
They declined to answer questions during brief remarks to reporters on the sidelines of the Asean Summit meeting in Manila on Monday. Sitting side by side, Trump and Duterte projected a friendly dynamic, ribbing the news media as they prepared to speak privately, the New York Times reported.
“We’ve had a great relationship,” the US President told reporters. “This has been very successful.” He praised Duterte’s handling of the summit and said, “I’ve really enjoyed being here.”
When asked whether Trump would press Duterte on human rights, the Philippines President quickly silenced them. “Whoa, whoa — this is not the press statement,” Duterte said. “We are in a bilateral meeting.”
The Philippines leader at one point called reporters “spies”, prompting Trump to chuckle.
Later, Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said: “The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up.”
On the streets of Manila, meanwhile, about a hundred anti-riot police officers with shields and truncheons clashed with about 300 protesters as they marched near the American Embassy.
The protesters carried anti-American placards and a likeness of Trump with a Hitler-like moustache. They were later pushed back with water cannons, the Times reported.
White House officials have said that Trump has a “warm rapport” with Duterte, with whom he has spoken and exchanged letters since taking office, and that he wants to mend the US-Philippines alliance after strains during the Obama administration.
Trump raised eyebrows in April by inviting Duterte to the White House. The Philippines leader has been accused of ordering thousands of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in what human rights groups condemn as a bloody campaign that has targeted many who may have nothing to do with narcotics.
Trump and other leaders attending the Asean event had already met on Sunday evening at a gala dinner hosted by Duterte. During the event, the Philippines leader took to the stage to sing a Filipino hit love song, afterwards saying it had been “on the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States”.