The highest-level interaction to date between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and a member of US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Taking a break from his hostile attitude towards the United States, Duterte granted a warm reception to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as the two met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN summit, on Monday.
Duterte told Tillerson at the presidential palace, “I am happy to see you… and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean peninsula, and of the course, the ever-nagging problem in the South China Sea. I know you’re worried there, because you also have domestic problems.. We are friends. We are allies. I am your humble friend in southeast Asia.”
Ahead of the meeting, both the Philippine and US governments said the the issue of human rights would be among the topics during the meeting. But after the meeting, Duterte said it was not discussed.
Human rights violations allegedly committed amid Duterte’s war on drugs have become a point of contention between the long-time allies — and human rights advocates want this addressed.
“Our expectation from ASEAN is one, to put human rights agenda at the center of all its undertakings, especially that it is now in its 50th year,” said Chang Jordan, spokesperson of Weaving Women’s Voices southeast Asia. “So we want the people’s interests over profits, human rights over corporate interests, and it should be human rights over business.”
Other issues reportedly discussed by Duterte and Tillerson are the ongoing conflict with terrorists in Marawi City, economic and people-to-people engagement, as well as finding resolution to the Balangiga bells, which were taken by American soldiers as war trophies more than a hundred years ago.