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Duterte, Trump omit human rights in bilateral talks, affirm trade ties

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US President Donald Trump (R) speaks during a bilateral meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila on November 13, 2017. World leaders are in the Philippines' capital for two days of summits. / AFP / POOL

THE ISSUE of human rights and alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines was not discussed during a meeting on Monday between US President Donald J. Trump and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo R. Duterte, a spokesman of Mr. Duterte said.

But a White House official, on the other hand, said human rights got a brief mention when the two met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit held in Manila and hosted this year by the Philippines.

Mr. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry L. Roque, Jr., said there was no mention at all of human rights or extrajudicial killings during their conversation.

Mr. Roque told a news conference on Monday afternoon, soon after the talks between the two leaders, that Mr. Duterte had explained his anti-drugs policy at length to Mr. Trump, who “seemed to be appreciative of his efforts.”

“There was no mention of human rights, no mention of extra-legal killings,” Mr. Roque said.

Yet according to spokeswoman Sarah Sanders of the White House, “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.” She said terrorism and trade were also discussed.

‘WE ARE YOUR ALLY’
The meeting between the two presidents was one of the most anticipated at the summit, with human rights groups pressing Mr. Trump to take a tough line on Mr. Duterte over his bloody war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed.

“We are your ally. We are an important ally,” Mr. Duterte told Mr. Trump at the beginning of their talks, according to reporters allowed into the meeting room.

Mr. Trump replied: “We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful. And the ASEAN conference has been handled beautifully by the president in the Philippines.”

“Rodrigo, I would like to commend you on your success as ASEAN chair at this critical moment in time, and in the association’s history,” Mr. Trump had also said.

On other matters, both agreed to forge a free trade agreement between their two countries, and Mr. Trump, according to Mr. Roque, also cited the matter of tariffs imposed on US automobiles but not on Japanese vehicles.

For his part, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who joined the bilateral meeting, said, “We enjoy a little trade surplus and we acknowledged US support via GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) and the recent inclusion of (our) travel goods. And that we wish to elevate the trade arrangements to start exploring the FTA with (the) US.”

“President Trump welcomed the suggestion and said they will consider exploratory talks on FTA,” he added.

LOVE SONG
Mr. Trump was criticized in May for praising Mr. Duterte during a phone call for the “great job” he was doing to counter illegal narcotics.

The United States and the Philippines, a former US colony, have been strategic allies since World War Two. But their relations have been strained by anti-US outbursts from Mr. Duterte and his enthusiasm for better ties with Russia and China.

However, Mr. Duterte clearly appears to be getting on better with Mr. Trump than he did with his predecessor, Barack H. Obama, Jr., whom Mr. Duterte lately described as “black yet arrogant.”

Messrs. Trump and Duterte seem to have warmed to each other after meeting for the first time on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group meeting in Vietnam.

On Sunday, Mr. Duterte crooned hit Filipino love song “Ikaw” (You) at a gala dinner for summit leaders in Manila, saying it was on “the orders” of Mr. Trump.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I sang uninvited, upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States,” Mr. Duterte said later, according to the ABS-CBN News Channel.

Mr. Roque described the relationship between Messrs. Trump and Duterte as “warm, friendly and candid.”

“It’s very apparent that both of them have a person who they consider as not a best friend,” Mr. Roque said. “They have similar feelings towards former US president Barack Obama.”

But Communications Secretary Martin M. Andanar for his part said: “The issue between President Duterte and former President Barack Obama is a thing of the past.”

Mr. Duterte’s anger was unleashed last year when Mr. Obama raised concern about possible human rights abuses in the war on drugs.

Mr. Duterte said at the time that Mr. Obama could “go to hell.”

Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Duterte met with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, discussing the maritime dispute in South China Sea and the tensions involving North Korea, among others.

Malacañang quoted Mr. Duterte as saying that China “holds the key in resolving the rising tension” regarding North Korea. — Reuters with Rosemarie A. Zamora

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